In 2023, the most important opposition to Romania and Bulgaria joining Schengen came from Austria, and this does not appear to be remedied anytime soon. However, pressure is mounting on Austrian officials to change their vote.
This week, Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister, Maria Gabriel, was on a working visit to Vienna. Inevitably, he also met with his Austrian counterpart and, among other things, addressed Austria’s veto on Romania and Bulgaria’s entry into the free movement area.
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Why are we not in Schengen?
In the last weeks and months, Austria’s rhetoric on this very important topic for Romanians has changed quite a bit, although the consequences are unchanged. Now, the Austrian Foreign Minister, Alexander Schallenberg, wanted to mention that the negative vote does not directly target Romania and Bulgaria, it does not betray a bad opinion towards the two countries. Instead, the problem is with the Schengen area, how it works, what are its underlying problems.
Apparently, the blockade that directly hits Romania and Bulgaria is not about Bulgarians and Romanians. Instead, it is about the fact that the government in Vienna has a “fundamental problem” with Schengen, with mass migration and weak borders at the entrance to the free movement area. At the moment, Austria is “systematically” dealing with the highest number of asylum applications in the whole of the European Union. Illegal migration must be reduced and the protection of external borders must be intensified.
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What’s next for the Schengen area, the accession of Romania and Bulgaria
On the other side of the barricade, following the meeting in Vienna, Bulgarian officials are optimistic that it won’t be long before Bulgaria enters Schengen and, implicitly, Romania. Immediately after, officials in Sofia offered assurances that they would defend their borders more effectively. As Maria Gabriel insisted, the Austrians can rely on Sofia’s ability to face the new challenges arising from the zone without border controls.