The Schengen area, the largest border-free travel zone in the world, can soon be expanded with three new members. It currently consists 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 well on their way to becoming part of Schengen. And this is a good thing for startups and companies on the block.
Last week MEPs of the European Parliament approved the introduction of Croatia, urging the Council to proceed with the process and a final decision, itself confirmed in December 2021 that the country has fulfilled all the necessary conditions for the full application of the Schengen rules.
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Comments on the issue, rapporteur and MP Paulo Rangel marked that Croatia has so far undergone the “most comprehensive” evaluation for Schengen membership of any other EU member state, with 281 recommendations in eight areas of the respective legislation.
“The Commission and the Council have confirmed that the country is ready to fully implement the Schengen rules. The European Parliament fully agrees: the lifting of internal border controls should happen by the end of this year,” he added.
Since 2011, Romania and Bulgaria have also applied for Schengen.
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 accessiondue to insufficient action against corruption and organized crime.
However, last month Parliament — for the fourth time since 2018 — expressed his support for the immediate admission of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen.
Wednesday, the Commission called again to the Council to admit the three Balkan countries to the Schengen area.
Why admission to Schengen benefits everyone
According to the Commission, the three countries have fulfilled all the conditions to join Schengen. In addition, they have been bound by the rules of the area for years and support the environment – especially during the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine.
However, internal border controls with these Member States have not been lifted and they therefore do not enjoy all the benefits that come with it. But what exactly are the benefits of participating in the free travel zone?
Well, that is the uninterrupted flow of people, goods and services — which is at the heart of the Schengen Agreement and essential to Europe’s prosperity.
According to EU statistics, nearly 1.7 million people live in one Schengen country while working in another, while about 3.5 million people cross internal borders every day. Europeans also make an estimated 1.25 billion trips within the area each year.
The general freedom of movement brings significant economic benefits to the participating states in the area and to Europe as a whole.
In fact, since the conclusion of the agreement, intra-European trade has increased over time — valued at €6.786 billion in 2021. Studies have also shown that the net bilateral trade of two Schengen members is increasing by 0.09% every year.
In addition, the lack of internal border controls gives companies a competitive advantage in Schengen. It ensures that goods and services can travel quickly and efficiently across borders, ensuring that supply chains function smoothly and the internal market and capital flow seamlessly.
In other words, the Schengen Agreement is an important contributing factor to the existence of the EU the largest economic area in the world. This means that its expansion can contribute to Europe’s prosperity and attractiveness by further eliminating wasted time at the borders and facilitating people and business contacts.
According to 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.”