After 13 years of waiting, Bulgaria and Romania officially entered the vast Schengen area of free movement at midnight on Sunday 31 March.

From that date, controls at their internal air and sea borders will be lifted, although they will not be able to open their land borders. On the roads, controls will remain in place for the time being, much to the dismay of lorry drivers, due to a veto by Austria motivated by fears of an influx of asylum seekers.

Despite this partial accession, limited to airports and seaports, the step has strong symbolic value. “This is a great success for both countries”, declared the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, referring to a “historic” moment for the Schengen area.

With the double entry of Bulgaria and Romania, the area created in 1985 now has 29 members: 25 of the 27 European Union states (excluding Cyprus and Ireland), as well as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

“Romania’s attractiveness has been strengthened and, in the long term, this will encourage an increase in tourism”, rejoiced the Romanian Minister of Justice, Alina Gorghiu, convinced that this standardisation will attract investors and benefit the country’s prosperity.

Following this first stage, a further decision should be taken by the Council to set a date for the lifting of controls at internal land borders.