Sunday 31 March 2024 - 14:04

Bulgaria, Romania Join Europe’s Visa-Free Zone

Story Code : 1126066
Bulgaria, Romania Join Europe’s Visa-Free Zone
A veto by Austria however means the new status will not apply to land routes, after Vienna expressed concerns over a potential influx of asylum seekers.

Despite the partial membership, the lifting of controls at the two countries' air and sea borders is of significant symbolic value.

Admission to Schengen is an "important milestone" for Bulgaria and Romania, symbolizing a "question of dignity, of belonging to the European Union", according to foreign policy analyst Stefan Popescu.

"Any Romanian who had to walk down a lane separate from other European citizens felt being treated differently," he told AFP.

With Bulgaria and Romania arriving joining Sunday, the Schengen zone will comprise 29 members -- 25 of the 27 European Union member states as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Romania's government said Schengen rules would apply to four sea ports and 17 airports, with the country's Otopeni airport near the capital Bucharest serving as the biggest hub for Schengen flights.

Bulgaria and Romania both hope to fully integrate into Schengen by the end of the year, but Austria has so far relented only on air and sea routes.

Created in 1985, the Schengen area allows more than 400 million people to travel freely without internal border controls.