The Council of the European Union’s decision to welcome Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen zone by air and water starting March 31, 2024, has been formally published in the Official Journal of the EU. This momentous announcement marks a significant milestone for both nations, signifying their long-awaited accession into the Schengen community.

The agreement, made public on December 30, signifies a crucial leap forward for Bulgaria, ensuring its comprehensive participation in the Schengen Information System, a vital component of its inclusion.

Notably, a joint declaration between Austria, Romania, and Bulgaria on refugee readmission has stirred considerable interest, especially concerning the “prompt and complete implementation of the Dublin criteria.” The declaration underscores the immediate repatriation of asylum seekers from these nations, with a specific emphasis on individuals from strife-ridden regions like Syria and Afghanistan. However, concerns about a potential surge of refugees into Bulgaria have been rebutted by authoritative figures within the nation.

While Austria remains the only opposition, discussions persist regarding Bulgaria and Romania’s complete access to the free movement area within the European Union.

Today’s released decision delineates the planned eradication of internal air and sea border controls slated for 2024, chiefly synchronized with changes in the International Air Transport Association (IATA) schedule. Nonetheless, the removal of internal land border controls will necessitate a unanimous Council decision, factoring in technical, operational, and collaborative considerations along these borders.

Effective March 31, 2024, border checks for individuals at internal air and sea borders between Bulgaria and Romania, as well as their relationships with numerous EU and Schengen member states, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, will be abolished. The operational implementation of the Schengen acquis will extend between these nations and other listed entities in the decision.

The Council is actively engaged in efforts aimed at achieving unanimity to annul checks on individuals at internal land borders, a pivotal stride toward the comprehensive integration of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen zone.