Austria maintains its veto on Schengen, negotiations continue

Bulgaria and Romania celebrated prematurely. Romanian freight carriers denounce partial deal.


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After the announcement that Romania and Bulgaria will join Schengen next year with air and maritime borders, the Austrian mass media reported that the joy in Romania and Bulgaria regarding Schengen is premature. Contrary to the statements made on Thursday by the governments in Bucharest and Sofia, the Austrian federal government maintains its refusal regarding the accession of the two countries to the Schengen Zone, which allows for border-free travel. Negotiations are still ongoing, clarified the Austrian Ministry of the Interior on Thursday afternoon, in response to an inquiry from the “Die Presse” publication.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs announced on Wednesday evening that, on December 23, a political agreement was reached with the interior ministries of Austria and Bulgaria for Romania’s and Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen Area with air and maritime borders starting in March 2024. However, negotiations for terrestrial accession will continue into the following year.

On December 23, 2023, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reached a political agreement together with the counterparts in Austria and Bulgaria regarding the expansion of the Schengen Area to include Romania and Bulgaria. The Schengen acquis will be applied in Romania and Bulgaria at air and maritime borders starting from March 2024. Discussions in 2024 will address its application at land borders, closely linked to compensatory measures for strengthening border control and implementing the Dublin Agreement,” stated the Ministry of Internal Affairs in a press release.

Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu also stated on Thursday evening that Romania’s accession process to the Schengen area via air and sea is “irreversible” and that there is a “political agreement” with Austria for it to happen in March 2024, despite the absence of a timetable for land border accession. Ciolacu mentioned on Romania TV that maritime Schengen accession is “of interest” for the “development of the Constanta port” and that Romania will have a “changed strategy” from next year to fully join the free movement area.

However, on Thursday, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior emphasized that there are currently no negotiations regarding the accession to Schengen with land borders, and therefore, there is no set deadline, as reported by Der Standard.

Regarding entry into Schengen with air borders, Austria imposes conditions – an increase in the Frontex mission in Bulgaria and funds from the European Commission for robust protection of external borders. The Ministry of the Interior in Vienna stated to the Austrian news agency APA that they also request the strengthening of controls at land borders and want Romania and Bulgaria to take in asylum seekers, especially those from Afghanistan and Syria.

The representatives of the largest freight carriers organization in western Romania consider that the agreement regarding Romania’s partial Schengen admission for sea and air travel is just a hoodwinking move and call on the government to step up actions to obtain in 2024 accession by land too, bringing to mind that the Romanian economy and society “are deeply affected by queues at the borders.”

Vice-president of the “Europa 2002” Freight Carriers Employers’ Association (APTE 2002) Dorin Pop said on Thursday that a partial accession to Schengen will have no noticeable effects on the economy and society.

What Romania obtained from negotiations with Austria is mere dust in the eyes, perhaps not even that. Air and naval traffic is minimal in Romania compared to land traffic, whether we speak about people or goods. Airport controls will still exist for documents, while kilometers-long queues at land borders will linger on. For example, on Wednesday afternoon the truck queue at the border with Hungary was stretching on four kilometers, and the waiting time for cars on the outbound was of several hours. The society and the economy are deeply affected by border queues. As the representative organization of the freight transport branch, we are very disappointed with this agreement and demand the stepping up of actions and negotiations to secure a concrete accession date in 2024 with land borders too,” said Dorin Pop.

He said that if the land borders are kept in place, 2024 will be a very difficult year for carriers “because road taxes will increase throughout Europe, cargo and truck insurance has grown more expensive, as did vehicle liability insurance policies. All these costs will eventually drive shelf prices higher.”

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