Bulgaria's Schengen Entry Faces Potential Delay Post-2025

World » EU | February 5, 2024, Monday // 09:11
Bulgaria: Bulgaria's Schengen Entry Faces Potential Delay Post-2025 Photo: Stella Ivanova @novinite.com

As Bulgaria anticipates the full integration into the Schengen Agreement, a potential hurdle looms on the horizon, suggesting delays that could extend beyond the initially projected 2025 timeline. The "Economist Intelligence Unit" (EIU) highlights this risk at the very end of January - a month after the agreement on the introduction of Schengen from the end of March for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens at international airports and portsemphasizing the intricate negotiations that lie ahead and shedding light on Bulgaria's strategic advantage in the delicate dance with Austria.

The EIU's forecast posits that negotiations with Austrian authorities might experience a hiatus until after the country's parliamentary elections in September. The sensitive nature of the migration issue in Austria, particularly within the pre-election landscape, is identified as the primary reason for the potential suspension of discussions.

Complicating matters further, the abolishment of passport controls at land borders could face heightened challenges post-election, especially if the ruling Austrian People's Party aligns with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), known for its uncompromising stance against illegal migration. The EIU goes so far as to suggest the possibility of an "indefinite postponement" of Schengen for both Bulgaria and Romania if the FPÖ becomes a part of the government.

However, injecting a crucial element into the negotiation dynamics, the EIU points to energy security as Bulgaria's trump card. The country's decision to waive the transit fee for Russian natural gas is strategically aligned with Austria's significant dependence on this energy source. With uncertainties looming over gas transmission through Ukraine in 2024, Bulgaria emerges as the sole alternative route for Russian gas, thereby significantly impacting Austria's long-term energy security.

"Austria is likely to adopt a more pragmatic approach post-election, even if the FPÖ secures a position in the government. The country's enduring energy security may hinge on the cooperation with Bulgaria and Romania," observes the EIU. Bulgaria's strategic significance comes to the forefront, providing the only route for Russian gas to Hungary and Austria, along with key gas terminals for liquefied natural gas in Greece and Turkey, reinforcing its negotiating leverage.

The EIU predicts that following the September elections, the European Commission will exert increased pressure on Austria, particularly toward the end of 2024, with energy security emerging as a pivotal aspect in the discussions. The article acknowledges the commitment of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to fortify borders and advocate for the complete inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen Agreement.

In the intricate realm of evolving political landscapes, potential Schengen entry delays, and the paramount importance of energy security, Bulgaria treads carefully through negotiations, balancing geopolitical complexities with its strategic role in the broader European landscape.

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Tags: Schengen, Bulgaria, Austria, energy

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