Austria’s Interior Minister speaks on Schengen negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania – reports

Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said on December 29 that there must be visible progress in the area of the protection of the EU’s external borders in order to reach the point that Bulgaria and Romania are accepted into “air Schengen” – the inclusion of the two countries’ airports in the Schengen system, according to reports by Bulgarian National Radio and Bulgarian National Television.

On December 27 and 28, Bucharest and Sofia said that a political agreement in principle had been reached with Vienna on Bulgaria’s and Romania’s air and sea ports being part of the Schengen system as of the end of March 2024, while negotiations on the inclusion of land borders were continuing.

Reports said that Austria had been annoyed by Romanian government members speaking about the Schengen negotiations and the in-principle agreement while talks were still continuing, and the statements were a breach of the radio silence that was meant to be maintained until all aspects were finalised.

“Air Schengen will be introduced when the necessary conditions are met and firmly established,” Bulgarian National Radio quoted Karner as saying.

“This means that the deployment of the military at the EU’s external borders will be significantly increased, especially Bulgaria-Türkiye, but also Romania-Serbia, and the land borders will continue to be controlled, especially between Romania and Bulgaria. And these two countries must accept refugees, especially from Afghanistan and Syria – these are the clear conditions and the position we have agreed on, including the three countries,” he was reported to have said.

“The (European) Commission and the Presidency (of the Council of the EU) must work on based on this position, which is of paramount importance for the preconditions for air Schengen. I want to clarify once again what air Schengen means? It means entry through airports. For us, this is not a problem because traffickers do not operate through airports.”

According to Bulgarian National Television, Karner is urging the European Commission and the Presidency of the Council of the EU to create a legal framework for the expansion of the Schengen airspace.

The Austrian conditions for “air Schengen” envisage an expansion of the Frontex mission and an increase in financial resources from the EC for the stable protection of the external borders. Austria insists that these conditions be formalised in an official document, the BNT report said.

“In other words, after this political compromise that was announced recently, the European Commission now has the task of preparing a binding legal text. It sounds very technocratic, but it is necessary, because otherwise anything can be written,” Karner was reported to have said.

At the moment, there are no negotiations on “land Schengen” and there is no set end date, the Austrian interior ministry said.

Romanian news website Adevărul said on December 29, citing political sources, that talks on the inclusion of the land borders of Bulgaria and Romania in Schengen would take place in the second half of 2024, after the European Parliament elections, to be held between June 6 and 9.

Austria is the sole remaining member of the Schengen zone not to have given its consent to the admission of Bulgaria and Romania to the zone, after Parliament in the Netherlands gave its consent on December 21.

(Photo: © BMI/ Jürgen Makowecz)

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