Bureau Report by Murad Sheikh
The Schengen Zone is Europe’s greatest achievement. A borderless customs union comprising 27 countries in its current form, it allows for seamless international travel across much of the bloc, freeing travelers from undergoing strict identity checks and facing long delays when country-hopping.
Earlier this year, Schengen welcomed yet another member – the Balkan country of Croatia – and it looks set to enlarge further in the near future as the group looks to lift all remaining border checks and bolster internal cooperation.
It is likely that, by the start of 2024, two new countries will be welcomed to the Schengen family, impacting all non-European travelers – and especially digital nomads – visiting Europe. Here’s why:
Bulgaria And Romania To Become Schengen Members In The Near Future
As adopted in a new resolution published by the European Commission, European Union (EU) member states Bulgaria and Romania fulfill all the necessary criteria to become full Schengen members by the end of 2023.
Though both Balkan countries have joined the European Union as early as 2007, they have remained on a ‘waiting list’ to join Schengen due to concerns relating to unaddressed cross-border crime, illegal migration paths, and security issues.
As the Eastern Balkans guard the EU’s borders to the East, with Bulgaria bordering the Middle Eastern Turkiye and Romania sharing land borders with the non-EU countries of Moldova and Ukraine, there was always some reluctance in accepting their Schengen membership bid.
After all, Schengen countries have no border controls with one another, allowing for the free, unchecked movement of people.
Security Concerns Are Addressed
In Bulgaria and Romania’s case, this could have put Europe’s internal security at risk, as argued by conservative lawmakers, seeing that their geographical location makes them a popular destination for irregular migrants and disadvantaged groups traveling via Turkiye and other poorer European countries.
Though they are full EU members, and Bulgarian and Romanian nationals alike enjoy freedom of movement across the bloc, they have always been subject to passport checks traveling to other countries in the EU and its associated Schengen Area. EU membership is linked to, but not equivalent to Schengen, as there are EU countries that are not part of Schengen, as well as Schengen countries that are not part of the EU. Any EU country, however, is legally bound to join Schengen eventually, and after being kept in the fridge for over a decade, the Eastern Balkans may now be ascending to the border-free group after safety measures were taken, and anti-corruption mechanisms enacted.
Schengen Accession Possible By The End Of 2023
According to the European Parliament, Bulgaria and Romania ‘should be in Schengen’ by the end of 2023, as resistance to the idea wanes across member states, and Austria, which previously barred both countries while green-lighting Croatia’s bid, is now under mounting pressure to lift their veto.
In order to ascend to the Schengen Area, aspiring countries must obtain approval from every single Schengen member state, and Austria’s veto last year was the only roadblock on their accession path.
The European Commission states that there are unnecessary delays, ‘bureaucratic difficulties and additional costs associated with these countries’ exclusion from Schengen.
They have also pointed out that border delays when traveling from Bulgaria or Romania to other EU countries can last for many hours, compared to an average ‘10 minutes without internal border checks‘ for intra-Schengen travelers.
Whether it’s late 2023, early 2024, or at some point in the near future, Bulgaria and Romania will join Schengen