Brussels, 16 November 2022
The Commission calls upon the Council to take the necessary decisions without any further delay to allow Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to fully participate in the Schengen area. In a Communication adopted today, the Commission takes stock of the three Member States’ strong record of achievements in the application of the Schengen rules.
For years, these Member States have significantly contributed to the well-functioning of the Schengen area, including during the time of the pandemic and more recently when faced with the unprecedented consequences of the war in Ukraine. While the three countries are already bound in part by the Schengen rules, the internal border controls with these Member States have not been lifted and therefore they do not enjoy the full benefits that come with being part of the Schengen area without internal border controls. Becoming fully part of the Schengen area is a requirement for these Member States and they should therefore be permitted to do so given that they fulfil the conditions.
An enlarged Schengen area without internal border controls will make Europe safer– through reinforced protection of our common external borders and effective police cooperation –more prosperous– by eliminating time lost at borders and facilitating people and business contacts – and more attractive– by significantly expanding the world’s largest common area without internal border controls.
Bulgaria has put in place a strong border management with efficient border surveillance and systematic border checks. Fight against cross-border crime is prioritised through international police cooperation, including with Europol. The Schengen Information System is well-established. Bulgaria also demonstrated that it has the necessary structures in place to ensure respect for fundamental rights, guaranteeing access to international protection, respecting the principle ofnon-refoulement.
Romania has high-quality and strong border management, including border surveillance and systematic border checks, and international police cooperation. Fight against irregular migration and trafficking in human beings are two priorities where Romania is active. The Schengen Information System is well established. Concerning the respect for fundamental rights, Romania has effective structures in place to guarantee access to international protection respecting the principle ofnon-refoulement.
Bulgaria and Romania successfully completed the Schengen evaluation process in 2011. The Council recognised the completion of the evaluation process in two separate Council Conclusions, but no Council decision on the lifting of internal borders has been taken for more than 11 years. Given the time passed since 2011, as well as with a view to strengthen mutual trust and in acknowledgement of the development of the Schengen rules since 2011, Bulgaria and Romania issued a Joint Declaration in the Council in March 2022. Bulgaria and Romania invited a team of experts on a voluntary basis under the coordination of the Commission to look into the application of the latest developments of the Schengen rules.
This voluntary fact-finding mission, which took place in October 2022, confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania have not only continued implementing the new rules and tools, but that they have also substantially reinforced the overall application of the Schengen architecture in all its dimensions. Moreover, these two countries proved to have a model track record of implementation of the Schengen rules.
In December 2021, the Council confirmed that Croatia had fulfilled the conditions required to join the Schengen area without internal border controls. The evaluation process took place from 2016 to 2020. It included a successful targeted verification visit in 2020 to verify the implementation of actions in external border management. Croatia has made considerable efforts to ensure that controls of external borders comply with fundamental rights obligations. In particular, Croatia set up an Independent Monitoring Mechanism in June 2021, which provides for independent human rights monitoring of border-related operations involving migrants and asylum-seekers. The Mechanism directly involves Croatian stakeholders and is guided by an independent Advisory Board. Croatia was the first Member State to put in place such a mechanism. A new agreement extending and reinforcing the Independent Monitoring Mechanism was signed on 4 November 2022. This new agreement fully reflects all the recommendations issued by the Advisory Board on 27 October 2022.
Under the steer of the Czech Presidency, on 8 December the Justice and Home Affairs Council will vote on the full participation of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to the Schengen area without internal border controls.
The Schengen area is the largest free-travel area in the world, with currently 22 EU countries participating (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia), as well as 4 associated non-EU countries (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). Ireland maintains an opt-out on the abolition of internal border controls.
Countries wishing to join the Schengen area must undergo a series of Schengen evaluations to confirm whether they fulfil the conditions necessary for the application of the Schengen rules. Once the Schengen Evaluation missions confirm the readiness of the Member State to join the area without internal border controls, a unanimous approval from all other Member States applying the Schengen acquis in full is required. The European Parliament must also give its consent.
On 10 November 2022, the European Parliament gave a positive opinion on the draft Council Decision on the full application of the Schengen acquis in Croatia. On 18 October 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution inviting the Council to allow Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen area.
Communicationon Making Schengen stronger with the full participation of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia in the area without internal border controls
Reportof the voluntary based fact-finding mission to Bulgaria and Romania on the application of the Schengen acquis and its developments since 2011
Communication on the verification of the full application of the Schengen acquis by Croatia
Council conclusionson completion of the process of evaluation of the state of preparedness of Romania to implement all provisions of the Schengen acquis
EU accession processstep by step
European Parliament resolutionto admit Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen
The time has come to allow Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to become full Schengen members, as is their right. Continued delays in doing so risks alienating citizens of these countries unduly and at a time when Europe needs to be knitting closer together. An enlarged Schengen area will make the EU stronger, internally and on the global stage.
Press remarks by Commissioner Johansson on the readiness of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to fully participate in the Schengen area
Schengen is the largest area of free movement in the world. 3,5 million people crossing borders every day – for work, studies, pleasure. One third of the EU population lives in border regions. Every year there are 24 million business trips, and travellers make 1.25 billion journeys in the area yearly.
420 millions across the continent are connected in the area of free movement.
Schengen is one of the biggest achievements of the EU. Those connections grow the internal market, they grow economies. Schengen grows people’s standard of living – pure and simple.
22 MS and 4 associated countries are in Schengen. Now it is time to include three more.
So today I present a Communication on a stronger Schengen with full participation of Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia.
It is high time to say welcome!
It is high time to say
Bine ați venit! (Romanian)
Schengen is Europe. These three Member States deserve to feel fully European.
To have the privilege of being a member you are bound by the Concil acquis. Which includes conditions, such as:
- Effective management of external borders
- Uniform Schengen visas
- Cooperation with law enforcement in other countries
- Connection to information systems, such as Schengen Information System
All this in order to maintain security within the area and in line with fundamental rights.
Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia had strongly proven that they have met all these conditions.
They have the tools, structures, and procedures in place to manage external borders, including possible security threats.
They have highly trained and dedicated staff, state of the art infrastructure and knowhow.
Bulgaria and Romania invited a fact-finding mission last month with 17 experts from MS together with experts from the Commission, and from our agencies Frontex, Europol and Fundamental Rights Agency. They assessed the developments of the legal framework, governance, and tools to manage effectively the Schengen area.
This was an answer to some remaining questions from some Member States. This mission, not only reported very positively, but also reaffirmed the two countries readiness to join Schengen. They have reinforced the application of the acquis.
For Croatia I would like to emphasize that, already last year, it was the first Member State to set up an Independent Monitoring Mechanism to guarantee the protection of fundamental rights at external borders.
Only two weeks ago the Croatian Government signed an agreement to renew and reinforce this mechanism.
The wait has been long, I should say too long. Expectations are high, rightly so – from authorities and at least from citizens.
The European Parliament has adopted several resolutions to support enlargement. Overwhelmingly voting to support.
Now, the Czech Presidency plan to have it on the agenda on the Home Affairs Council on 8 December.
This will be a truly European decision. Schengen has survived the turbulence of recent years.
These challenges have been surmounted because of a shared European spirit.
And this spirit must continue – in our modern world.
Because today Schengen is something very different from when it was created. We will soon introduce interconnected large scale IT systems, VISA information System, Schengen information system, we have Europol, we have Frontex.
And this is needed: we must have smart, strong, and interconnected control at our external borders.
And intensive cooperation between law enforcement agencies and authorities.
Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia are ready join, and I should say the European Union is ready to welcome.
I expect MS to take this important, historical, positive decision. A moment of great pride, for the citizens of these countries.
And most importantly a decision in all our interests.
Source – EU Commission