Bulgaria and Romania to partially join Schengen in March 2024

Published on: 31 December 2023

On December 30, 2023, the EU Council made a historic decision to welcome Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area, starting with the removal of air and maritime internal border controls from March 31, 2024. This decision, a result of 12 years of negotiations, is a significant step towards their full integration into the Schengen zone. Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez expressed his satisfaction with this development, which aligns with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) schedule change.

The EU Commission has praised this move, anticipating enhanced travel, trade, and tourism, and a strengthened internal market. EU Commission President von der Leyen highlighted the pride and historic significance for Bulgaria and Romania, emphasizing the freedom of movement across internal sea and air borders. She commended their efforts and perseverance in meeting Schengen standards.

Bulgaria and Romania have been on a journey towards Schengen membership since their EU accession. Their readiness was first acknowledged in 2011 and reaffirmed through various fact-finding missions at their external borders in 2022 and 2023. The EU has reinforced Schengen’s architecture over the past decade, ensuring robust security and cooperation measures. This ninth expansion of the Schengen area is a testament to the Member States’ mutual trust and unity.

As the Schengen area prepares to grow to over 4.5 million square kilometers with a population of approximately 450 million, discussions will continue in 2024 for lifting checks at internal land borders. Bulgaria and Romania will receive continued support in managing their external borders, including financial aid and assistance from Frontex, the EU agency responsible for coordinating border control efforts.

The Schengen visa policy, a cornerstone of the EU’s free movement principle, facilitates short stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period across the Schengen area. Currently applicable to 27 countries, this policy will soon expand to include Bulgaria and Romania, bringing the total to 29 states. This unified visa system, offering both single and multiple-entry options, simplifies travel for tourists and business visitors, enabling them to traverse multiple European nations with a single visa. The impending inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania, effective from March 2024, represents a significant enhancement to the Schengen area, promoting easier movement and fostering greater economic and cultural integration within the European Union.

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