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What is “Air Schengen”, partial integration into a zone that will benefit Bulgaria and Romania?

According to the President of the European Commission, this is “a day of great pride for Bulgaria and Romania” after twelve years of negotiations. Ursula von der Leyen. The 27 members of the European Union (EU) announced overnight that Bulgaria and Romania will partially integrate the Schengen free movement area from March 31, 2024, when the International Transport Association (IATA) airline switches from winter to summer schedules. This “Air Schengen” provides for the abolition of controls at sea and air borders.

On December 28, an agreement had already been announced between Bulgaria, Romania and Austria – the country that had previously blocked the procedure – but the effective date was not known. Vienna criticized the EU for its indifference to illegal immigration, which it considered disproportionate. According to Austria, poor protection of European borders associated with the Schengen zone is to blame.

Maintaining land control

So, in early December, everything accelerated. Then, as Austrian public radio reported, the country’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said he was ready for an agreement with Sofia and Bucharest on the principle invented by Austria: “Air Schengen.” “Discussions are ongoing and the Commission is ready to provide its support” and allocate “the necessary funds,” responded spokesman Christian Wiegand. He also welcomed “positive developments.”

Specifically, this means that “passengers arriving from Bulgaria and Romania” will no longer have to go through passport control other than that carried out by the airline, according to the Austrian Ministry of the Interior. But “control at the land border will continue,” explains on X (formerly Twitter) Sebastian Schaeffer, director of the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe in Vienna. In other words: the removal of border controls will not only affect land transport.

If Austria was willing to lift its veto, it was because Bulgaria and Romania agreed to give in to Austria’s demands, otherwise Gerhard Karner said he would “not approve of Air Schengen.” In particular, Vienna demanded a massive strengthening of the “protection of the external borders of the EU” and “maintaining controls at the land borders” of the European Union.

Another point: guaranteeing better “support from Bucharest and Sofia for asylum seekers” arriving in these countries, in particular Syrians and Afghans. A joint statement between Bulgaria and Romania on this matter was signed by the two states this Saturday evening. The two countries are also committed to the full implementation of European legislation covering, in particular, the care of asylum seekers in their countries of entry into the EU.

Likewise, Austria has called for tripling the number of agents from Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. According to her, improvements are needed on the border between Romania and Serbia, as well as on the border separating Bulgaria and Turkey. Vienna has also demanded that the money needed to finance border security infrastructure come from the European Commission.

Source: Le Parisien

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