Bulgaria and Romania have both moved closer to Schengen area as the European Commission today (14 June) marks the 25th anniversary of the Schengen Agreement, providing for the gradual abolition of frontier checks at their common borders with other EU countries.
Bulgaria and Romania, the EU's latest newcomers, came closer to joining the Schengen border-free zone last week after the European Parliament's civil liberties committee approved a Council decision to allow Sofia and Bucharest to join the SIS, the Schengen Infornation System database.
The step, seen as a milestone towards accession to the Schengen area, will be completed on 18 June following a vote in plenary in Strasbourg.
Both Bulgaria and Romania have set themselves the target of joining the Schengen space in 2011. Until 2001, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens still needed a visa to visit Schengen countries. Last December, the visa requirement was lifted for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro too, and the process is expected to continue with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania (EURACTIV 27/05/10).
Speaking in Sofia recently, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Bulgaria could count on Italy's support for the EU newcomer's speedy accession to Schengen, wrote Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner publication in Bulgaria.
In the meantime, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström marked on Friday the anniversary of the Schengen process, which in fact began life outside the EU framework, being later taken on board the bloc's acquis with the Treaty of Amsterdam, which entered into force in 1999.
Schengen has become one of the most powerful symbols of the EU's capacity to improve the lives of its citizens, Malmström said. She referred to when she was growing up in Gothenburg and caught the ferry to Denmark, which was about as far as she could go without a passport.
"Now Swedes can drive over the Öresund Bridge [linking Sweden to Denmark] and carry on all the way to southern Italy," she exclaimed.
But she also warned that with the opening of borders, more efforts were needed between law enforcement authorities to fight serious crime.