Partial Schengen Integration of Romania and Bulgaria

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: April 2, 2024; 23:15 ♦ (Vindobona)

A first step towards the full integration of Romania and Bulgaria into the European Schengen area has been completed. With the abolition of entry controls on air and sea travel for citizens of these countries, known as "Schengen-Air", an intermediate path was found between Romania's and Bulgaria's aspirations towards integration and Austria's veto stance.

Romanian and Austrian interior Ministers Catalin Predoiu (l.) and Gerhard Karner (r.) at Vienna Airport. / Picture: © BMI/Jürgen Makowecz

This event, solemnly presented at Vienna's Schwechat Airport by Austria's Interior Minister Gerhard Karner and his Romanian counterpart Catalin Predoiu, marks a partial accession to the Schengen area and symbolizes the progress and close cooperation between the countries involved.

While the joy at the easing of travel conditions is palpable for many citizens, questions remain about the full integration of the two countries into the Schengen border regime. Karner emphasized the harmonious coordination between the countries and referred to common interests in areas such as combating asylum abuse and human smuggling. Despite the positive developments and the commitment of both countries to improve the EU asylum system, the abolition of land border controls remains uncertain.

The critical voices, as reported by ORF, such as those of Helmut Brandstätter of the NEOS, shed light on the challenges and perceived injustices within the current implementation of the Schengen system. Brandstätter described the partial integration as an "embarrassing attempt" and warned that the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria would continue to be treated as second-class citizens. This criticism reflects the concern that, despite progress in the free movement of persons by air and sea, full equality within the Schengen zone has not yet been achieved.

The two interior ministers emphasized the measures already taken and future plans to strengthen security in the Schengen area. Among other things, the tripling of the Frontex operation at the Bulgarian-Turkish border, increased checks at land borders and the return of asylum seekers were highlighted as part of a wider effort to strengthen the European border and asylum system.

Romania was praised for its efforts to strengthen the protection of its external borders and make significant progress in the fight against illegal migration. Predoiu emphasized that these efforts deserve recognition and stressed the importance of continuing cooperation at European level to further improve asylum and migration management.

The effects of "Schengen-Air" are particularly noticeable at Vienna Airport, where a significant number of passengers from Romania and Bulgaria are registered. Günther Ofner, CEO of Flughafen Wien AG, emphasized the positive development and the importance of maintaining security in close cooperation with the authorities.

Although "Schengen-Air" is an important relief for many, the ongoing debate on full integration and the existing challenges in the EU asylum system underline the complexity of the European integration processes. The future will show how these developments continue to unfold and what steps need to be taken to ensure full and fair integration of all EU Member States into the Schengen area.