The way for Croatia's accession to the Schengen area without border controls is clear. The responsible ministers of the 26 Schengen countries agreed on this at a meeting in Brussels.
The controls at the land borders of the popular holiday destination to other Schengen countries are to be abolished at the beginning of next year. From spring there will be no more controls at the airports. For tourists, the trip to the Adriatic country should be much easier. So far, travelers from Germany have often been stuck in traffic for hours in summer to get into the country. Croatia will also introduce the euro as a means of payment at the beginning of 2023.
Disappointment for Romania and Bulgaria
Romania and Bulgaria, on the other hand, suffered major disappointments. Austria in particular blocked their admission to the Schengen area. The current Czech Council Presidency tried to reach a decision for all three countries with several compromise proposals - but ultimately unsuccessfully.
The Schengen area currently includes 22 EU countries as well as Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland. There are usually no stationary border controls at the internal borders between these countries. This makes it the world's largest area of freedom to travel. New members can only be admitted unanimously. Romania and Bulgaria have been waiting for the decision since 2011.
Undesirable migration to the EU has recently increased significantly
Austria's Interior Minister Gerhard Karner had already announced before the meeting: "Today I will vote against the Schengen expansion to include Romania and Bulgaria." It's wrong to expand a system that doesn't work. The conservative politician was alluding to the fact that, from Vienna's point of view, too many migrants come to Austria, although the countries on the EU's external borders are actually responsible for them. According to him, there have already been more than "100,000 illegal border crossings" to Austria this year, 75,000 of which had not previously been registered.
In fact, unwanted migration to the EU has recently increased significantly. Between January and October, the border protection agency Frontex counted 281,000 irregular border crossings, an increase of 77 percent compared to the same period last year. At least with regard to Romania, the numbers of those who were registered there and who traveled to Austria without permission between January and October 2022 were very low.
Germany to accept Bulgaria and Romania
The Netherlands also showed resistance to the lifting of controls on Bulgaria, for example because of constitutional concerns. On the other hand, Germany, like the EU Commission, advocated fully including both Bulgaria and Romania in addition to Croatia in the Schengen area. The three countries are already partially bound by the Schengen rules, but internal border controls with them have so far been maintained.
Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) said that she could not understand Austria's position. "It was agreed that it would be looked at: Has progress been made? It has clearly been made." The EU Commission has repeatedly confirmed this progress for the three countries. "The three candidate countries have done what they had to do and they are ready to ensure the protection of our external borders," said Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, referring to Vienna's concerns. "It's unfair not to give them the chance they deserve and deserve."