On the evening of December 27th, the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs announced through an official press release that it had reached a political agreement with the ministries of Austria and Bulgaria for the expansion of the Schengen area to include Romania and Bulgaria with air and maritime borders starting in March 2024.
"On December 23, 2023, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reached a political agreement with its counterparts in Austria and Bulgaria regarding the expansion of the Schengen Area to include Romania and Bulgaria. The agreement includes the application of the Schengen acquis in Romania and Bulgaria at air and maritime borders starting from March 2024. Additionally, discussions in 2024 will address its application at land borders, closely linked to compensatory measures for strengthening border control and implementing the Dublin Agreement."
The Ministry of Internal Affairs expressed gratitude to the President of Romania, the Prime Minister, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Permanent Mission in Brussels, for the support provided during the negotiations conducted over the last 5 months.
Former Prime Minister Dacian Cioloș criticized the Government for the "triumphalist announcement" regarding Romania's accession to the Schengen Area through air and maritime routes, as well as the soon-to-be lifting of land border controls. He mentioned the Austrian Minister of the Interior has stated that there is no specific timetable for these measures.
Austria was keen to emphasize on Thursday that the opening of the European maritime and airspace for Romania and Bulgaria does not represent full membership in the Schengen Area, and it did not provide a specific implementation timeline, according to France Presse.
"Schengen Air means that passengers arriving from Romania and Bulgaria will no longer be subject to passport control other than that carried out by the airline at the boarding gate," explained the Austrian Ministry of the Interior.
Vienna has set conditions for "Schengen Air," including the increase of Frontex operations in Bulgaria and funding from the EU Commission for a robust protection of external borders. The Austrian Ministry of the Interior clarified to the Austrian news agency APA that they also request increased control at land borders and for asylum seekers, especially those coming from Afghanistan and Syria.
MEP Victor Negrescu explained what the expansion of the Schengen Area means for Romania and Bulgaria with air and maritime borders starting in March 2024.
"The accession to the Schengen Area via air travel, and especially through maritime routes, brings enormous benefits to Romania from the outset. Romania fully connects to the free movement zone, becoming a full-fledged member of the Schengen mechanisms, and makes the path towards entry via land routes irreversible," stated Victor Negrescu on his Facebook page.
He explained that there are five benefits that Romanians will experience starting from March next year:
1️. Romanian citizens will travel more easily to other Schengen countries, gaining the rights they deserve. We're talking about millions of passengers annually. This also means that Romanians in the diaspora can return home more easily by air, benefiting from the numerous airports in Romania, many of which are in the process of expansion and modernization.
2️. Romania will be able to transport essential goods more easily into the Schengen area using air transport. This applies to the transportation of medicine, emergency transportation, transportation of sensitive technical equipment, parcel transportation, or logistic transportation with a civil-military component.
3️. Our country will become more attractive for investments, foreign investors, and tourists. They will be able to travel faster and better connect their branches in Romania with those in other Schengen countries. In 2022, 585 million out of 900 million tourists who traveled abroad came to Europe, representing 65% of the total globally, making the Schengen area the most visited zone in the world. Additionally, Romania can host more major events.
4️. Romania's accession to the Schengen Area via maritime routes will facilitate the intensification of trade exchanges, accelerating the transport of goods along this route. Our country is set to become the main gateway to the European Union from Eastern Europe. Already in 2022, the Port of Constanța recorded a growth of over 15% in the quantity of handled cargo compared to 2021, the third-highest increase among European ports. Additionally, 1.6% of the volume of maritime port transport, expressed in goods loaded and unloaded in maritime transport in Europe, was carried out through Romania in the previous year.
5️. Entry into technical mechanisms ensures the connection of consular services, empowers border personnel, and provides unlimited access to all mechanisms and decision-making processes in the Schengen Area. Romania gains the right to be at the decision-making table in the free movement zone, making the process irreversible.