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After ten years, Schengen expands its borders

Croatia enters, while Romania and Bulgaria are on a waiting list

09 December, 20:36
(ANSA) - BRUSSELS, 09 DIC - The world's largest area of free movement has a new member. As of January 1, 2023, 27 states will be part of the Schengen area, or 23 EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. The newest member, Croatia, will join in less than a month. As a result, border controls at land and sea crossings will be abolished at the beginning of the year, and border controls at airports by the end of March 2023. With Croatia's entry, the Schengen area grows for the first time in more than a decade.

According to information gathered by the consortium of agencies that make up the European Newsroom (ENR), EU interior ministers were supposed to vote in December on enlarging the free movement area to include three more countries-Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. But while the road to Zagreb's accession was paved, there needed to be a consensus on Romania and Bulgaria due to Austria's and the Netherlands' opposition. Moreover, the acquisition of a new member of Schengen requires unanimity.

What is still keeping Romania and Bulgaria out of Schengen? According to the European Commission, Bulgaria and Romania have been ready to join Schengen since 2011. According to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, however, the abolition of border controls between the two countries is currently off the table.

The reason given is the arrival of too many unregistered migrants in Austria.

On the other hand, the Netherlands opposes Bulgaria's entry into Schengen, partly because of concerns regarding the rule of law.

In October, the Dutch parliament adopted a resolution saying that further analysis was necessary of the functioning of the rule of law and the pervasiveness of corruption and organized crime in Bulgaria. Last week, the Dutch government decided that Bulgaria still did not meet the conditions for joining the Schengen area. Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said it was too early to accept Bulgaria's membership. However, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed the prospect of the country receiving approval next year.

Attempts to find a solution will continue until the end of this year and next, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev said at the end of the Council. "Bulgaria behaved very well. The European Commission's conclusion, reports, and opinions showed that Bulgaria and Romania meet all the requirements for admission to Schengen. The issue was political," Demerdzhiev summed up. "Nothing is lost. On the contrary, we are on the right track and have done what we were expected to do," he added.

"No dates have been set. Negotiations are on hold. Austria has made it clear that there are compromises it would accept. With the Netherlands, the dialogue is more difficult. There is no constructive approach in their position," Demerdzhiev underlined.

Romanian Premier Nicolae Ciuca expressed his "deep disappointment" at the "lack of consensus" on Romania's accession to Schengen and stressed that Austria's vote was unjustified. "All but one European state agreed to open the doors of the Schengen area to Romanians, recognizing our preparedness and the continuous efforts made for years to protect Europe's external borders. But, unfortunately, he pointed out, unanimity was impossible today because only one member state, Austria, refused Romania's entry. We sincerely regret this and do not understand the inflexible position shown by Austria." (ANSA).

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