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Romania and Bulgaria became at midnight local time (11 p.m. in Switzerland) the 28th and 29th members of the vast European Schengen free movement area after 13 years of waiting. This is with the notable exception of land borders.

On the roads, controls will be maintained for the time being, to the great dismay of truckers. Blame the veto of Austria, the only refractory country in the EU for fear of an influx of asylum seekers.

Despite this partial membership, therefore limited to airports and seaports, the scene has a strong symbolic value. “This is a great success for both countries,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

“This is a historic moment for the Schengen area, the largest area of free movement in the world. Together we are building a stronger and more united Europe for all our citizens,” she said. Romanian Justice Minister Alina Gorghiu is convinced that this standardization will attract investors and benefit the country’s prosperity.

“Romania’s attractiveness is strengthened and, in the long term, this will promote an increase in tourism,” she said at a conference on Saturday. Finally, membership is “a question of dignity,” notes Stefan Popescu, an international relations expert based in Bucharest.

“Each Romanian, when he adopted a line different from other European nationals, felt treated differently,” he told AFP. The Bulgarian Ivan Petrov, 35, a marketing manager based in France, also welcomes “a big step forward”, “a saving of time” and “less stressful” travel in perspective.

29 members now

At the airport of the Romanian capital, where the majority of flights serve the Schengen area, the teams have been mobilizing all week to prepare for this small revolution.

With the promise of more people carrying out unannounced checks, particularly on minors “in order to prevent them from falling into human trafficking networks”, according to the government. The deployed agents will also be there to “guide passengers and identify those who would take advantage of this to leave Romania illegally”.

Because we must show our qualities to hope to overcome Vienna’s reluctance. And become full members of the Schengen area, within which more than 400 million people can travel freely, without permanent internal border controls.

Croatia, although it entered the EU after Romania (19 million inhabitants) and Bulgaria (6.5 million), members since 2007, was ahead of them head on in January 2023. With this double entry, this zone created in 1985 will now have 29 members: 25 of the 27 states of the European Union as well as their associated neighbors, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

“At 3% in Schengen”

Excluded from the process, road carriers do not take off. The wait lasts “from 8 to 16 hours” at the border with Hungary, “from 20 to 30 hours with Bulgaria, with peaks of three days” in both cases, lamented in a press release one of the main Romanian unions in the sector, deploring colossal “financial losses”.

“We have waited 13 years, we are at the end,” reacts Secretary General Radu Dinescu. Same rant from the Bulgarian bosses. “Only 3% of Bulgarian goods are transported by air and sea, the remaining 97% being transported by land,” explains Vassil Velev, president of the BICA (Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association) organization, interviewed by AFP.

“We are therefore at 3% in Schengen and do not know when we will be authorized to join it completely,” he laments. While he hopes for progress by the end of the year, the entrepreneur fears paying the price of the legislative elections scheduled for the end of September in Austria, while conservative Chancellor Karl Nehammer must face rising polls in far right.

Whatever happens, Sofia and Bucharest have warned: there will be no going back. “It is clear that this process is irreversible,” Romanian Interior Minister Catalin Predoiu said in early March, calling for its completion in 2024.

This article is originally published on news.dayfr.com

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