Austria does not want Bulgaria and Romania to join the visa-free Schengen Area.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer reiterated his country’s opposition to Schengen-zone expansion after a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov in Vienna.
According to Austria, the current Schengen system is broken.
“The fact that 11 Schengen states carry out border controls clearly shows that the Schengen system needs to be repaired,” Nehammer said on X.
“It is a question of security that 70 per cent of migrants still travel through many EU Member States unregistered. This requires a solution.”
Wir haben auch über das Thema Schengen gesprochen. Österreichs Position bleibt unverändert. Dass 11 Schengen-Staaten Grenzkontrollen durchführen zeigt klar, dass das Schengen-System repariert werden muss. Es ist eine Frage der Sicherheit, dass nach wie vor 70% der Migranten…
— Karl Nehammer (@karlnehammer) October 24, 2023
While praising Bulgaria’s accomplishments in border protection, Nehammer stated unequivocally that the current security scenario does not permit the elimination of border controls.
“Austria’s problem with migration has nothing to do with Bulgaria’s borders,” he said, noting that only a limited number of migrants apprehended in Austria come through Bulgaria.
Alongside Austria, the Netherlands is also opposing an expansion of the Schengen zone, as indicated by the Dutch Minister for Migration Eric van der Burg.
He recently said he wanted an independent mission to assess the situation on the ground and, following that, a report from the European Commission that would state: “The countries not only adopted the necessary laws but also implemented them.”
Spain’s interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska had earlier expressed optimism that Bulgaria’s and Romania’s Schengen membership could be approved during the next EU Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHC) meeting in December.
“We will do everything to reach this agreement in December. We are trying to achieve it, fingers crossed, we are working very hard on it. We work with Austria and all 27 member countries,” he told Bulgarian radio.
“And I think that in the end, we will succeed.”
Schengen membership of both countries is among the main priorities for Spain, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, told Bulgarian radio she was positive about Bulgaria and Romania joining Schengen in December.
On December 8, 2022, EU interior ministers agreed to accept Croatia into the visa-free zone but not Romania or Bulgaria. Austria and the Netherlands refused to admit both due to worries about what they said was irregular migration.
Bulgaria’s Minister of Internal Affairs Kalin Stoyanov said his country was making progress and had prevented 160,000 irregular border-crossing attempts in 2023, compared to 100,000 recorded in the same period last year.
Marcel Ciolacu, the Prime Minister of Romania, indicated his country might take its case to the European Court of Justice.
On October 25, Denkov said that by removing formal border controls between Bulgaria and its EU neighbours Greece and Romania, resources would be freed-up to better defend the bloc’s external frontiers with Turkey and Serbia.
This should ease border checkpoint queues for EU transporters while also lowering the cost of freight from Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania to Central, Eastern and Western Europe, ultimately contributing to lower inflation.
The Schengen Area is a union of 27 European countries that have removed the need for passports and many other forms of border control at its common borders.
At present, it excludes EU member nations Cyprus and Ireland while including non-EU members Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.