Austria and Romania Hope to Resolve Schengen Dispute

Austria and Romania Hope to Resolve Schengen Dispute

A dispute has emerged between Austria and Romania regarding Romania’s accession to the Schengen area. 

Austria vetoed Romania’s bid to join the border control-free zone in December 2022 over concerns about irregular migration, even with new screening systems like the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) planned.

However, the presidents of both countries have recently expressed optimism that a solution can be found.

Austrian President Opposed Government’s Veto

In December 2022, Austria vetoed the applications of both Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen Zone, citing concerns about irregular migration. 

This move was criticized by Alexander Van der Bellen, the President of Austria, who said “the decision was not the right one.”

Van der Bellen argued that blocking Romania and Bulgaria does not address the root issues. 

“If the Schengen system does not work, why should we block Romania and Bulgaria? Why not allow them to join?” he said. 

The real question is how to control the flow of people looking for work or asylum across the European Union’s (EU) 27 member states, he added.

The Austrian president has maintained this position over time. In October, he said the Schengen blockade does not contribute to a solution.

Austrian Chancellor Defends Veto

In contrast, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has defended the veto

He said in October that Vienna maintains its position against Romanian and Bulgarian accession over security concerns, as 11 Schengen countries currently have internal border checks.

Nehammer stressed the decision is not against Romania and Bulgaria specifically. 

He acknowledged both have made efforts to protect the EU’s external borders.

Romanian and Bulgarian Frustration

The veto of Austria, as well as the Netherlands against Bulgaria, has caused frustration in Bucharest and Sofia.

Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu called the veto a “profound injustice” and sought an extraordinary EU meeting on the matter in December.

During an October visit to Vienna, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov unsuccessfully tried to persuade Nehammer to change his stance.

Hope Expressed for Positive Resolution

Despite the disagreement, the presidents of Austria and Romania have recently expressed optimism the dispute can be resolved.

According to a spokesperson, Van der Bellen and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis recently met at a summit in Bucharest. 

Both “expressed their hope that the issues currently standing in the way of accession can soon be resolved positively,” the spokesperson said.

Van der Bellen believes European integration has benefited Austria’s export-based economy and domestic companies are successful in Romania.

For his part, Johannis appreciated Van der Bellen’s “continued commitment to a solution.”

Potential Impact on EU Travelers and Immigrants

If resolved, Romania’s accession to the Schengen Zone would allow travelers to move between it and other Schengen countries without border checks. 

This would make travel and working in the region easier.

Romania’s accession would also expand the borderless Schengen area, which currently comprises 26 European countries. 

Bulgaria’s accession would provide the same benefits.

For non-EU immigrants, Schengen membership does not automatically grant new rights. 

However, it could allow those already legally present in the Schengen zone to more easily travel and work in Romania.

The dispute highlights the immigration concerns of some EU members. 

Austria and the Netherlands argue the region’s external borders must be strengthened before expanding internal freedom of movement.

Impact on EU Immigration Policy

The dispute also relates to ongoing debates about EU immigration policy.

Austria and other skeptical nations want more assurances that all member states can control irregular migration into the Schengen area. 

They argue this is needed to maintain security.

However, Romania and Bulgaria counter that their exclusion from Schengen is unjust, given their efforts to secure borders.

As the migrant crisis continues, the dispute shows EU members hold different views on burden-sharing and the right policy balance between border security and freedom of movement.

Resolving the dispute could build unity on a controversial issue. However, failure to find an agreement risks further division.

The outcome will impact ongoing EU discussions on reforming asylum rules and Schengen governance.

Potential Broader Implications

Austria’s veto of Romania and Bulgaria’s Schengen membership bids sparked a dispute rooted in differing views on migration. 

However, the presidents of Austria and Romania hope a compromise can be found, for the benefit of both countries and the broader EU.

The resolution could have meaningful implications for travel, immigration, and the EU’s ability to jointly decide sensitive policies.