The European Parliament published a report last Friday stating that preliminary approval for Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area has been granted by the European Union (EU) Council. Both countries have now met minimum data security requirements for joining the “Schengen Information System” border control database, which is the first step to the removal of border controls between Romania and other Schengen participant countries.

Both Bulgaria and Romania will now be given limited access to the Schengen Information System as the next step in the process. Further tests, to evaluate the countries’ ability to use the Schengen Information System satisfactorily, are scheduled for November and December 2010.

The Schengen area is a zone in Europe within which border controls have been removed, meaning that travellers may pass freely through the zone without the need to show passports or visas. Thus, generally, a visa for one Schengen member country is valid for travel through or in other Schengen member countries (although there are restrictions and certain exceptions to this rule). Currently, the Schengen area consists of the following member countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.  Neither the United Kingdom nor the Republic of Ireland are Schengen members, although both are members of the European Union.