What You Need to Know About Bulgaria and Romania's Partial Accession to Air Schengen

By AXA Schengen, 18 January 2023 

On 27th December 2023, it was announced that Romania and Bulgaria had reached an agreement with Austria to join the European Schengen area of free movement by sea and air as of March 2024. After more than a year of opposition, in mid-December, Vienna finally proposed "Air Schengen", a form of partial membership in this area of free movement.

The Council of the European Union announced that Romania and Bulgaria had reached an agreement with Austria to join the European Schengen area of free movement by sea and air as of March 2024.

Schengen Area Expansion: A History 

Bulgaria and Romania, both EU members since 2007, are on the brink of a transformative integration into the Schengen Area. Established in 1985, the Schengen Area has been instrumental in shaping the ethos of unrestricted movement within Europe, spanning 27 countries and granting over 423 million citizens the liberty to travel without internal border checks. This expansion has not only facilitated seamless travel but has also played a crucial role in fostering economic trade and social integration across participating nations. 

What will the economic and security implications be? 

The recent breakthrough comes after persistent vetoes, primarily from Austria, that hindered Bulgaria and Romania's aspirations to join the Schengen Area since 2011. However, the introduction of "Air Schengen" represents a significant compromise, allowing for partial accession with the abolition of sea and airport border checks, while land border control remains in place. This proposal holds substantial economic potential, promising enhanced connectivity and increased trade for businesses. Individual travelers stand to benefit from smoother cross-border experiences, with the reduction of queues at airports encouraging cross-border tourism

On the security front, as part of the agreement, EU members commit to reinforcing external border control. This involves calls for increased staffing by Frontex and technical aid at crucial borders, emphasizing a heightened focus on security even as the Schengen Area expands. For Bulgaria and Romania, embracing this compromise signifies a mutual commitment to stringent checks, ensuring the integrity of the borderless zone. 

What are the political responses and public opinion? 

The European Union has witnessed a spectrum of political reactions to the concept of Air Schengen. Romania and Bulgaria welcome Austria's softened stance, while other member states, notably the Netherlands, express opposition citing rule-of-law concerns. Leaders in Romania, including Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu (France24) and Bulgaria cautiously embrace the development, acknowledging progress but recognizing the need for further negotiations. 

Public opinion is diverse, with citizens expressing eagerness for facilitated travel and others voicing concerns about potential implications for national security. The discourse surrounding Air Schengen reflects a broader debate on finding the delicate balance between unrestricted movement and the necessity for effective border controls.

As Bulgaria and Romania navigate the complex landscape of political and diplomatic hurdles on their path to partial integration into the Schengen Area, the introduction of Air Schengen stands as a powerful testament to the effectiveness of compromise. While representing a significant, if not complete, step towards full membership in the zone of free movement, ongoing discussions slated for 2024 will be pivotal in shaping the future landscape of European travel, economic collaboration, and border security. 

This partial accession marks a milestone for Bulgaria, Romania, and the EU as a whole. Yet, the journey toward the full realization of the Schengen promise continues. Adjustments at the levels of policy, infrastructure, and public sentiment will be indispensable in ensuring that these changes yield the most beneficial outcomes for all involved. 

Don't forget that if you need a Schengen visa, you must provide a travel insurance certificate as a mandatory requirement during your application.