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EU pushes to add Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania to its passport-free travel zone

The European Commission called on Wednesday for Romanian, Bulgarian, and Croatian citizens to be able to travel freely without passports across Europe, which would expand the so-called Schengen area with no border checks to 29 countries.

The Comission asked the European Council, the grouping of the European Union’s 27 governments, to take the necessary decisions to admit the three Balkan countries to the passport-free zone, already enjoyed by some 420 million Europeans.

The Schengen area includes countries that are not EU member states, such as Norway, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, and Iceland. Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia, as well as Cyprus and Ireland, are EU members but not part of the zone.

Bulgaria and Romania completed the evaluation process in 2011, but EU governments have held off the lifting of internal border controls for them for more than 11 years over concerns related to corruption and organised crime. Croatia, in turn, has been admitted into the bloc in 2013.

“While the three countries are already bound in part by the Schengen rules, the internal border controls with these member states have not been lifted and therefore they do not enjoy the full benefits that come with being part of the Schengen area,” the Commission said in a statement.

“Becoming fully part of the Schengen area is a requirement for these member states and they should therefore be permitted to do so given that they fulfil the conditions,” it said.

The Council confirmed in December 2021 that Croatia, had fulfilled the conditions to join the Schengen area. The 1985 Schengen agreement stipulates that to join, a country must control its external border on behalf of other Schengen members, because once a person enters the area, it can move across all the countries without any checks.

All Schengen countries go by the same criteria when issuing visas to visitors and as to the co-operation of their police forces. The Schengen countries all observe the same data protection standards and use the Schengen Information System to share information about missing or wanted persons, illegal entrants, stolen vehicles, and lost or stolen identity documents.

EU governments are expected to vote on the participation of the three countries at a meeting of ministers on December 8.

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