Bulgaria and Romania enter Schengen visa-free zone, opening new travel horizons

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Bulgaria and Romania embark on Schengen Zone inclusion journey.

BUCHAREST, March 31: After 13 years of anticipation, Bulgaria and Romania are set to partially join Europe’s expansive Schengen area of free movement this Sunday, ushering in eased travel by air and sea without border checks. However, land border controls will persist due to Austria’s resistance to granting full membership status to the Eastern European nations, citing concerns over potential asylum seeker influx.

The lifting of controls at air and sea borders marks a significant symbolic milestone for both countries, despite the partial membership status. Analysts view admission to Schengen as a crucial step for Bulgaria and Romania, signifying a sense of dignity and belonging within the European Union.

Foreign policy analyst Stefan Popescu emphasized the significance, stating that any Romanian who experienced separate lanes for European citizens felt a sense of being treated differently.

Enthusiasm for streamlined travel and time-saving opportunities was expressed by Ivan Petrov, a 35-year-old Bulgarian marketing executive residing in France.

With Bulgaria and Romania’s inclusion, the Schengen zone expands to encompass 29 members, including 25 EU states and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

Schengen rules will apply to four seaports and 17 airports in Romania, with Otopeni airport near Bucharest serving as a major hub for Schengen flights. Increased staff, from border police to immigration officers, will be deployed to airports to assist passengers and prevent illegal departures from Romania. Measures such as random checks aim to deter individuals with false documents and combat human trafficking, including minors.

Both Bulgaria and Romania aspire to achieve full integration into Schengen by year-end, although Austria’s consent has thus far been limited to air and sea entry.

While some celebrate the milestone, truck drivers, grappling with lengthy border queues, express frustration. Romanian transport unions have called for urgent action to expedite full Schengen integration, citing substantial financial losses due to prolonged waits.

Truckers endure wait times of eight to 16 hours at the Hungarian border and 20 to 30 hours at the Bulgarian border, with some peaks lasting three days, according to union reports.

Bulgarian businesses, heavily reliant on land transport, lament the slow progress. Vasil Velev, president of the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA), underscores the discrepancy between air-sea and land transportation, highlighting the urgency for full Schengen inclusion.

Romanian and Bulgarian authorities affirm their commitment to irreversible Schengen integration, with plans to extend to land borders by 2024, as stated by Romanian Interior Minister Catalin Predoiu earlier this month.

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