Bulgaria, Romania take first steps into Europe's vast visa-free zone

After 13 years of waiting, Bulgaria and Romania are to partially join the Europe's vast Schengen area of free movement on Sunday, opening up travel by air and sea without border checks.

But land border controls will remain in place due to Austria's opposition to the eastern European countries becoming full members of the Schengen zone for fear of an influx of asylum seekers.

Despite the partial membership, the lifting of controls at the two countries' air and sea borders is of significant symbolic value.

Admission to Schengen is an "important milestone" for Bulgaria and Romania, symbolising a "question of dignity, of belonging to the European Union," according to foreign policy analyst Stefan Popescu.

"Any Romanian who had to walk down a lane separate from other European citizens felt being treated differently," he told AFP.

Ivan Petrov, a 35-year-old Bulgarian marketing executive who lives in France, said he was enthusiastic about less stressful travelling and the time he would be able to save.

 And they were 29 

With Bulgaria and Romania joining from Sunday, the Schengen zone will comprise 29 members — 25 of the 27 European Union member states, as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

According to the Romanian government, Schengen rules will apply to four sea ports and 17 airports, with the country's Otopeni airport near the capital Bucharest serving as the biggest hub for Schengen flights.

More staff ranging from border police to immigration officers will be deployed to airports to "support passengers and detect those who want to take advantage to leave Romania illegally," the government said.

Random checks will also be carried out to expose people with...

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