The Schengen area, the largest border control-free travel zone in the world, may soon expand to include three new members. Currently, it comprises of 22 EU member states and four countries outside the Union: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Now, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria — the youngest EU members — are on the right track to becoming part of Schengen. And this is a good thing for startups and businesses in the bloc.
Last week, MPEs of the European Parliament approved the introduction of Croatia, urging the Council to move forward with the process and a final decision, having itself confirmed in December 2021 that the country has fulfilled all the necessary conditions for the full application of Schengen rules.
Commenting on the matter, rapporteur and MPE Paulo Rangel highlighted that Croatia has so far undergone the “most comprehensive” evaluation for Schengen membership of any other EU member state, having met 281 recommendations in eight areas of the respective legislation.
“The Commission and the Council have confirmed the country’s readiness to apply the Schengen rules in full. The European Parliament completely agrees: lifting internal border controls must happen by the end of this year,” he added.
Romania and Bulgaria have also been knocking on Schengen’s door since 2011.
Although the EU Council and Parliament confirmed in the same year that both countries met all the required criteria, the Netherlands and Finland vetoed their accession, citing insufficient action against corruption and organized crime as the reason.
However, last month, the Parliament — for the fourth time since 2018 — voiced its support for admitting Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen without delay.
On Wednesday, the Commission called once more on the Council to admit the three Balkan nations to the Schengen area.
Why admission to Schengen benefits everyone
As per the Commission, the three countries have met all the conditions for joining Schengen. On top of that, they’ve been bound by the area’s rules for years, as well as supporting the surrounding area — especially during the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis.
Yet, the internal border controls with these member states have not been lifted and, therefore, they do not enjoy the full benefits that come with it. But what exactly are the benefits of joining the free-travel zone?
Well, that’s the uninterrupted flow of people, goods, and services — which is at the heart of the Schengen Agreement and is key for Europe’s prosperity.
According to EU statistics, almost 1.7 million people reside in one Schengen country while working in another, while around 3.5 million people cross internal borders daily. Europeans also make an estimated 1.25 billion journeys within the area every year.
The overall freedom of movement brings significant economic benefits to the area’s participating states and Europe as a whole.
In fact, since the establishment of the Agreement, intra-European trade has increased over time — valued at € 6.786 billion in 2021. Studies have also shown that the bilateral net trade of two Schengen members increases by 0.09% every year.
Furthermore, the lack of internal border control provides Schengen-based businesses with a competitive advantage. It ensures that goods and services can travel across borders with speed and efficiency, ensuring the smooth operation of supply chains and the seamless flow of the internal market and capital.
In other words, the Schengen Agreement is a major factor contributing to the EU being the world’s largest economic area. This means that its expansion can add to Europe’s prosperity and attractiveness by further eliminating time lost at borders and facilitating people and business contacts.
As per Margaritis Schinas, VP for Promoting our European Way of Life, “Schengen is not complete without all our Member States. A more inclusive Schengen will be a stronger and more secure Schengen.”