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Austria blocks Romania, Bulgaria from EU's free-travel area; Croatia admitted

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The European Union, meeting in Brussels, voted to admit Croatia to the Schengen Area while Austria blocked Romania and Bulgaria from joining the passport-free zone in Europe. Photo courtesy of Croatia In the EU/Twitter
The European Union, meeting in Brussels, voted to admit Croatia to the Schengen Area while Austria blocked Romania and Bulgaria from joining the passport-free zone in Europe. Photo courtesy of Croatia In the EU/Twitter

Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Austria has blocked the accession of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area, the common European 26-nation, passport-free zone where people can freely cross borders within Europe.

Croatia got unanimous backing to join Schengen in January 2023.

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"I am very pleased that during the Czech Presidency, Croatia was able to take two important steps in its European integration by joining both the euro and the Schengen areas," Czech Minister of Interior Vit Rakusan said in a statement Thursday.

"I am confident that these successes will pave the way for other member states who fulfill the conditions to take the next step in their European journeys, and my colleagues and I will continue to work hard to ensure that we can welcome Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen family in the near future."

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The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Croatia welcomed its inclusion in Schengen, tweeting "Last step completed! Council decision adopted -- it's now formally confirmed that Croatia joins Schengen Area as of Jan. 1, 2023."

Votes on whether to admit these nations to the Schengen area were taken Thursday in Brussels.

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Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said before the vote, "I will vote today against the Schengen enlargement to Romania and Bulgaria. I think it is wrong that a system that does not work in many places should be enlarged."

Austria's opposition stems from what it sees as a security issue with 75,000 unregistered migrants arriving in Austria through the West Balkan route in 2022, according to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said both Romania and Bulgaria are meeting all of the requirements to join Schengen and deserve to be admitted.

"They have been waiting for a long time. The citizens of Bulgaria and Romania deserve to be fully part of the Schengen area," Johansson said. "I thought, actually, that we would have the decision today. So, I think that today is a day of disappointment."

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