Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania “are ready to join” Europe’s visa-free travel area, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Wednesday.
The countries — all EU members — have “strongly proven” they can meet the conditions needed to participate, she added, following a meeting of EU commissioners.
Each country has been working for years to gain acceptance to the free-travel Schengen zone, which can open up benefits for the countries involved by facilitating the movement of both tourists and residents.
Johansson said the trio had done the necessary work, including improving border management, ensuring cross-border law enforcement cooperation and adopting the uniform Schengen visa.
After Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, Cyprus and Ireland are the only other EU countries not part of the Schengen zone.
Not all EU countries are thrilled with the three entering the free-travel club, with members like Sweden expressing concerns about organized crime and corruption in the countries. But the European Parliament has been leaning on the EU to act.
The European Commission’s endorsement is meant to put momentum behind the trio’s bid to join Schengen.
Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told POLITICO on Tuesday that the Commission wanted “to dissipate any doubt as to whether Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are fit to join.”
Johansson said the issue will next go to EU home affairs ministers, who are expected to discuss the issue at a meeting on December 8.
“I expect the member states to take this important historical positive decision, a moment of great pride for the citizens of these countries, and most importantly, a decision in all our interest,” Johansson said.
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.