In December 2023, the European Commission officially confirmed the forthcoming inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen area, with the initial integration at air and sea borders scheduled for March 31, 2024. This significant development is anticipated to catalyze enhanced travel, commerce, and tourism, thereby fortifying the internal market. Subsequent deliberations regarding the potential elimination of controls at land borders will continue throughout 2024. The expansion of the Schengen area is poised to augment the robustness of the European Union both domestically and on the global platform.
The European Commission initially ascertained Bulgaria’s and Romania’s preparedness to partake in the Schengen area without internal border controls back in 2011. Since then, both countries have consistently demonstrated their adherence to the prerequisites for Schengen membership. This affirmation was reaffirmed following three fact-finding missions conducted at the external borders of Bulgaria and Romania during 2022 and 2023. Furthermore, in March 2023, the Commission initiated pilot projects in collaboration with Romania and Bulgaria to bolster external border management, reinforce cooperation with neighbouring nations, and ensure expeditious asylum and repatriation procedures.
The Schengen area is fully equipped to receive Bulgaria and Romania into its fold. Over the past decade, the EU has diligently reinforced the framework safeguarding the area against internal border controls. A series of measures encompassing security, police, and judicial cooperation have been implemented to uphold the EU’s resilience against security threats. A novel governance model, an enhanced evaluation mechanism, and an annual cycle of reporting and monitoring now fortify the Schengen area. The collective endeavours in recent years have rendered Schengen more robust and resilient.
Deliberations regarding the potential timeline for the removal of checks on individuals at internal land borders are expected to persist in 2024, with a decision by the Council on this matter anticipated within a reasonable timeframe.
Substantial financial support and assistance from Frontex will continue to be extended to aid Bulgaria and Romania in safeguarding the Union’s external borders. Simultaneously, the efficacy of the pilot projects devised by Bulgaria and Romania at the external borders has been substantiated and should be institutionalized into more permanent arrangements.