The Schengen area, Europe’s visa-free travel area, will expand for the first time in more than a decade after all 26 member states voted on Thursday to accept Croatia to join the deal. The country will become a full member of the passport-free zone as of January 1.
However, Romania and Bulgaria were again unable to join the region, which mainly consists of EU countries, as well as countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Their bid, which required unanimous approval, was rejected by Austria, citing concerns about border security and illegal migration.
Vienna’s objections were criticized by other member states when the European Commission, the body responsible for assessing potential Schengen zone candidates, argued that the two Balkan countries had met all the requirements. Necessary requirement to join the passport-free zone since at least 2011.
Ahead of the vote, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock begged Austria to reconsider its stance towards Romania and Bulgaria, arguing that they deservedly like Croatia to be part of the Schengen area, noting that the Commission The EU has reconfirmed this only a few times. a few weeks ago.
The two Balkan countries became full members of the European Union in 2007, almost six years before Croatia in 2013.
“Today I will vote against the extension of the Schengen Area to Romania and Bulgaria,” Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner insisted on Thursday ahead of the vote. “I think it’s wrong to scale up a system that doesn’t work in many places.”
Austria, which has reported more than 100,000 illegal arrivals this year, says it has little confidence in the border controls of Romania and Bulgaria. It argues that removing checks on arrivals from these countries would open up the Schengen area to more illegal immigrants.
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told reporters the lack of consensus on the issue “Makes us very weak.” She emphasizes Romania and Bulgaria “deserves to be an official member” of Schengen and she will continue “Support every step of the way to achieve this.”