Croatia to join Schengen zone, Romania and Bulgaria not yet

On Thursday, European Union Member States have voted to welcome Croatia in European Union’s borderless area of Schengen.

With unanimous support from the 26 Schengen members, Croatia will join the unrestricted movement arrangement starting 1st of January 2023. “The Schengen Area is growing for the first time in more than a decade,” the Presidency of the Council of the European Union tweeted. “Ministers approved Croatia’s membership as of 1 January 2023!”

Croatian MEP Valter Flego praised the vote, saying it marks “a historic day for Croatia! WE made it! From 1/1/2023 borders down, Croatia will join Schengen! The last milestone of our european integration path!” Starting next year, the country’s currency, kuna will be replaced with euro, joining 19 other countries in the bloc that use the currency. “It will be a special New Year’s Eve 🎉 looking forward to 2023!” Flego concluded.

Romania and Bulgaria were also subjected to vote on Thursday afternoon, but they were denied membership. The two have joined the bloc in 2007, 6 years before Croatia did, and been waiting over a decade for confirmation. Austria opposed the accession of both Romania and Bulgaria, while the Netherlands supported Romania’s bid but opposed Bulgaria’s. “I will vote today against the Schengen enlargement to Romania and Bulgaria,” Austria’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said on Thursday ahead of the vote. “I think it is wrong that a system that does not work in many places should be enlarged.”  “We need more time. At the moment, we have 75,000 unregistered illegal migrants in Austria – meaning they have crossed an external EU border and made it to Austria. This needs to be solved first” Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer pointed out.

Even though the two nations had the support of almost all the ministers, a decision on expanding the Schengen Area requires unanimous approval. “When it comes to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, we are not united and that makes us very weak and that makes me also sad,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said. She later posted a message for the citizens: “To citizens of Bulgaria and Romania I say this: you deserve to be fully part of Schengen. I will support every step to achieve this in my mandate.”

After the decision was announced, officials from the two Balkan nations, took it to social media to express their anger. “Austria’s unfair opposition is a free Christmas gift’ for Russian President Vladimir Putin. European unity and stability have today received a hard blow from a state that has chosen, in difficult times, to abandon its European comrades and serve … the interests of Russia,” Marcel Ciolacu President of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies wrote on Facebook, concluding: “Austria is clearly disconnected from Europe.”

On the other hand, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev wrote “Instead of European solidarity, Bulgaria receives cynicism.”