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Romania and Bulgaria will join the Schengen area on March 31.

The lifting of internal border controls at the air and sea borders with Bulgaria and Romania from March 31, 2024 is an important milestone in the expansion of the Schengen area, a fundamental pillar of the concept of free movement within the European Union. This development, which allows EU air and sea travelers to enter Romania and Bulgaria without border controls, and vice versa, without the need for passport controls, symbolizes a significant step towards a more integrated and united Europe.

This extension of the Schengen area was long held back by objections from some Member States, who doubted the readiness of Bulgaria and Romania to adequately guard the external borders of the Schengen zone, especially the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. Concerns about the security of this external border reflect the EU's broader challenges in managing migration and maintaining internal security. Nevertheless, the Netherlands, long skeptical, put a positive spin on the issue at the end of last year, paving the way for the expansion.

With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, the Schengen area now includes 29 states, including 25 of the 27 EU Member States, excluding Cyprus and Ireland, as well as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. This enlarged Schengen area strengthens the fundamental right of EU citizens to travel, work and live freely within the Member States, a principle at the heart of European integration.

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Illustration: © Pitane Blue - Schengen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized the historic importance of this enlargement by highlighting its role in building a stronger and more united Europe. This sentiment reflects the general vision of the European Union, which sees the expansion of the Schengen area not just as an administrative adjustment, but as a step forward in realizing the European dream of freedom and integration.

However, the partial integration of Bulgaria and Romania, with the continued need for passport controls at national borders due to ongoing concerns from some countries such as Austria, also highlights the complexity of such expansions. This step shows that while the EU strives for unity, there are still challenges and concerns that need to be overcome to achieve a fully integrated and secure union.

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