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Schengen Area |  Austria opens the door to Romania and Bulgaria

Schengen Area | Austria opens the door to Romania and Bulgaria

(Vienna) Austria, which a year ago objected to the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area, expressed its readiness on Monday to soften its position, a change welcomed by Brussels.

“I can imagine changes at the airport level in Bulgaria and Romania,” Conservative Interior Minister Gerhard Karner told public radio Ö1.

But in return, he set “conditions”: “significantly strengthening the protection of the European Union’s external borders,” “maintaining controls on land borders,” and ensuring “better support from Bucharest and Sofia for asylum seekers” who arrive on their territory.

“Otherwise, I will not agree to Schengen flights either,” he warned, which puts “the ball back in the Commission’s court.”

The European executive welcomed these “positive developments.” Commission spokesman Christian Wiegand confirmed during a daily press conference that “discussions are continuing and the Commission is ready to provide its support” and release “the necessary funds.”

In Bucharest, Prime Minister Marcel Ciulacu welcomed the news “with joy.” He commented, “We have broken the ice,” considering Vienna’s demands realistic. “This is the first step […] I hope that the second phase will be held on the ground next year.

Suffering from past setbacks, his predecessor, Nikolai Ciocca, nevertheless wanted to be “cautious” until the negotiations were over.

In Sofia, Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov spoke of “a step in the right direction,” while rejecting “being treated like a second-class country.”

After more than ten years of waiting, Romania and Bulgaria, members of the European Union since 2007, were rejected at the end of 2022 from this vast area in which more than 400 million people can travel freely, in theory without internal border controls.

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Austria objected to their nominations, while the Netherlands opposed Bulgaria’s candidacy alone.

Indeed, several Central European countries have re-imposed exceptional controls in recent months to combat illegal immigration.