Air Schengen – progress or precedent?

Congratulations are in order for Romania and Bulgaria as they join the Schengen area, with the lifting of maritime and air border controls after years in the waiting room. However, there is a catch to this long-awaited moment. In their new entry on the IDM Blog, Sophia Beiter and Sebastian Schäffer explain what is problematic about this solution and why its gravity is not as substantial as announced.

Romania, Bulgaria and Austria have apparently made progress in their negotiations on the accession of the two Black Sea countries to the Schengen area. It has been reported that Austria may agree to the establishment of the so-called “Air Schengen” for Bulgaria and Romania as early as March 2024, which was proposed by the Federal Minister of the Interior Gerhard Karner earlier this month.

What is “Air Schengen”?

Partial Schengen entry by air would mean that passengers from Romania and Bulgaria would no longer have to fly to other Schengen countries via the international terminal. In terms of air (and sea) transport, Bulgaria and Romania would therefore be part of the Schengen area. However, border controls by land would continue.

In principle, opening the borders for air traffic represents progress in the protracted Schengen accession negotiations and is therefore to be welcomed. Nevertheless, “Air Schengen” does not replace full Schengen membership.

Why “Air Schengen” is not enough:

1. The agreement comes rather late, especially in view of the fact that the European Commission declared Bulgaria’s and Romania’s readiness to join the Schengen area back in 2011. A compromise like Schengen entry by air and/or sea could therefore have been struck over a decade ago and especially helped to avoid the diplomatic faux pas from last December, when Austria vetoed the accession. However, there is a strong possibility that the decision was ultimately not taken by Karner, but in the Federal Chancellery. In any case, such a compromise could potentially set a dangerous precedent. If additional barriers are added to the criteria that need to be fulfilled e.g. to join Schengen, this could ultimately be extended to other policy areas or enlargement in general. This compromise therefore not only creates an additional possibility to veto and thus extort countries but also contributes to a multi-layered, potentially two-class EU, which adds unnecessary complexity as well as frustration.

2. Border controls in air traffic affect far fewer people and are far less problematic in terms of waiting times, bureaucracy and CO2 emissions. Business travellers and tourists to and from Bulgaria and Romania may have less waiting time at the airport, but trucks will continue to get stuck at border controls for long periods of time. Even with the (mostly questionable) reintroduced border controls among Schengen members, the average waiting time between Upper Austria and Bavaria, for instance, is 20 minutes, compared to a mean six hours at the border to Romania and/or Bulgaria.

3. Austria has announced a number of conditions for the implementation of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s partial Schengen accession: an increase in the Frontex mission; more money, personnel and material for the protection of external borders; and that Romania and Bulgaria take in more asylum seekers, particularly from Afghanistan and Syria. While stricter border controls could be accepted by Romania and Bulgaria, the last demand is logistically and politically rather unrealistic. In mid-December, Prime Minister Denkov still vehemently rejected this “migrants for Schengen” offer. It also undermines to a certain extent the deal struck just over a week before on 20 December at the European Parliament, which commits the national governments of member states to show more solidarity and share responsibility regarding asylum and migration.

For more on the topic watch the discussion: The Future of the Schengen Area: Exploring its Enlargement.

Read the op-ed (in German) in Die Presse.

Eines der drängendsten Themen unserer Zeit

Warum das österreichische Veto gegen den Schengen-Beitritt von Bulgarien und Rumänien aus vielen Gründen kurzsichtig ist, erklären Sophia Beiter und Sebastian Schäffer im Gastkommentar in DiePresse.

Lesen Sie es hier.


Der Gastkommentar wurde in internationalen Medien rezipiert:





Special Round Table: Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM) after 70 years

A special Round Table in the framework of  

The annivaersary event series “70 Years of the IDM – Locating the Future” 

and the Annual Conference of the Romanian Centre for Russian Studies:

“20 Months After the Russian Invasion in Ukraine.  What Has Been Done, What Needs to Be Done. Where Is the End?”

(9-11 November 2023, Bucharest) 


Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe  

(Institut für den Donauraum und Mitteleuropa – IDM Vienna)  

after 70 years. 


Chair: Sebastian Schäffer  

Discussants: Prof. Dr. Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, Dr. Anatoliy Kruglashov, Prof. Dr. Aleksander Etkind (online), Dr. Iver B. Neumann, Dr. Armand Goșu, Prof. Dr. Radu Carp. 

Main topics: the EU enlargement and integration, conditions for a good neighbourhood relationship, and the development of democracy and multilateralism, all of them within the broader context of the Russian aggression in Ukraine.  

Further Information:  

Bucharest Conference Program pdf

IDM at the youth event “Young Danube Bridges”

On 19 September, Sophia Beiter attended the event “Young Danube Bridges” at the Collegium Hungaricum in Vienna. Organized by the regional cultural advisor from the Danube Swabian Central Musuem in Ulm, the seminar was part of the project “International Youth Encounters in the Danube Region” and aimed to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas on key issues concerning the area. 

Participants from Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova came together to learn about the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. The young people, who are all learning German, presented their countries, brought some typical food from their region and gathered knowledge about the Danube region during creative games and interactive activities. Alongside the IDM, several cultural institutes and embassies of the respective countries were present at the event. 

IDM Short Insights 27: Russian attacks on Ukrainian Danube ports

The Danube Region is facing increased Russian missile strikes, posing a threat to the area’s stability, especially near the Romanian border. NATO has been briefed on the situation but found no evidence of deliberate Russian aggression against allied territories. Romania can invoke Article 4 of the NATO Treaty for consultations. Romania’s Ministry of Defense is prepared to respond to an attack on its soil, but invoking Article 5 is not automatic. Rather than blaming Romania for its proximity to targets, the focus should be on condemning Russia’s attacks and understanding their broader implications, including the weaponization of food.


The Danube Region has come under direct attack. Following Moscow’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal, Russian missile strikes targeting Ukrainian ports along the Danube River have significantly increased over the past weeks. The Kremlin is once again threatening the civilian population and risking the region’s safety and stability, as the attacks are happening close to the Romanian border, an EU and NATO member state.   

Dylan White, the acting spokesperson for NATO, disclosed this week that Romania’s ambassador has briefed the alliance about the drone fragments that have been found. He emphasized that there is no evidence suggesting any deliberate aggression by Russia against allied territories. However, Romania retains the option to invoke Article 4 of the NATO Treaty, which calls for collective consultations among member states to safeguard political independence, territorial integrity, and overall security. 

The Ministry of Defense of Romania has asserted that should an attack occur on Romanian soil, the country’s armed forces are fully prepared to respond appropriately. This doesn’t necessarily mean further escalation, as some observers are suggesting. Invoking Article 5, the core of the alliance’s collective defense, is no automatism. Following an attack, the NATO state first has to decide whether or not to ask for support and the response taken is then determined by all members.  

Rather than fearing an Article 5 scenario – so effectively blaming Romania for their border being too close to militarily irrelevant targets – we should ultimately be much more concerned about the Russian Federation’s continued heinous attacks, deliberately causing civilian casualties. We need to understand that Putin is taking all of these factors into account, including the further weaponizing of food against the weakest parts of global society.   

Pushbacks, vetoes, boycotts… What will the Schengen dispute mean for CEE?

On December 8th, Austria blocked EU members Romania and Bulgaria from joining the Schengen area, quoting fears of uncontrolled irregular migration as a main explanation. In response, in both countries, calls for a boycott of Austrian companies followed. What lies behind Austria’s veto and what consequences will it have for the EU and the region? Why can individual states block decisions of that magnitude for other EU members? Do we witness another face of Euroscepticism, in which “vetoism” is a tool of countering supranationalism? Finally, what measures should be taken to improve the decision-making processes at the EU-level? 

We discussed these and other questions together with: 

Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, former Prime Minister of Romania

Vladislava Gubalova, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Global Europe, GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Daniela Apaydin, Research Associate, Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe

Sebastian Schäffer, Managing Director, Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe 


Malwina Talik, Research Associate, Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe.

Watch the discussion here:

Danubius Awards 2022

Danubius Award 2022 to the Bulgarian scientist Prof. Dr. Diana Mishkova, Danubius Mid-Career Award to Ukrainian scientist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tamara Martsenyuk and Danubius Young Scientist Awards to 13 promising researchers from the Danube region. 

The “Danubius Award” 2022 goes to Bulgarian Prof. Dr. Diana Mishkova, History Professor and Director of the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) in Sofia, Bulgaria. With her work focusing on modern and contemporary history of Eastern Europe, the modernization of South-Eastern Europe, European societies, and European peripheries as well as national identities, she has contributed profoundly to research on the Balkans. She is o the funding director of CAS Sofia, that is supported by numerous international sponsors, such as the Wissenschaftkolleg Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study Berlin). Prof. Dr. Mishkova has already received several awards for her scientific work and is involved in different international projects – currently in the Horizon 2020 project “PREVEX – Preventing Violent Extremism in the Balkans”.

Ukrainian scientist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tamara Martsenyuk has been awarded the “Danubius Mid-Career Award” 2022. She is an Associate Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. In her studies, she focuses on gender research, social inequality issues, gender policies, social movements, and empowerment. In addition to numerous stays abroad and the participation in international research projects, she also brings her expertise to national policy forums and NGOs. Her research is currently focusing on the topic “Women’s involvement in Russia’s War against Ukraine”. 

In addition, 13 young scientists from the Danube Region will be awarded with the Danubius Young Scientist Award 2022 for their scientific work.

By presenting these Awards, the Austrian Ministry for Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) is contributing to the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) adopted by the European Council in 2011. Through the awarding of outstanding scientific achievements, the Danube region is made visible as a research area and the perception of its multidisciplinary challenges and potentials is strengthened.

“The Danube Region provides many opportunities for cross-border and regional cooperation among universities as well as research organizations. And there are, indeed, plenty of common challenges along the Danube and beyond which we need to jointly address and develop solutions for Federal Minister for Education, Science and Research Prof. Martin Polaschek pointed out on the occasion of the award ceremony on 10 November 2022 at the University of Maribor.

“The role of scientists and researchers has changed profoundly in the last decade. On the one hand, scientists and researchers are in a high demand to deliver fast results and provide evidence for critical policy decisions, and they have become indispensable in explaining and communicating the current knowledge available. On the other hand, we see a worrying rise in skepticism towards science and research as well as towards democracy in general, which creates a wide range of problems for and in our societies. We need to work together to counter this skepticism, and I am confident that all of you present and especially the awardees of today can and will contribute with their work towards demonstrating and communicating the relevance of science and research“, Polaschek continued.

The award ceremony in Maribor took place in the presence of Barbara Weitgruber, Head of the Department from the BMBWF, and Friedrich Faulhammer, Chairman of the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM).

In her introduction, Barbara Weitgruber highlighted the solidarity with Ukraine as partner country of the EUSDR: “We will continue our support to the Ukrainian researchers, who have come or aim of coming in the EU, as well as to those remained in Ukraine. In addition to that, we hope for an early beginning of the reconstructions, and we are getting ready for appropriate support measures”. 

Friedrich Faulhammer added: “I am really pleased that once again we are working together with the Ministry for Education, Science and Research to honor scientists, who are significantly contributing to the development of knowledge and understanding within the Danube region in their various fields of research. This year, I am particularly pleased that we can also highlight the scientific work of Ukrainian female researchers, as they are currently forced to work under the conditions caused by the unjustified Russian attack on their country”.

The “Danubius Award” was established in 2011 to honor researchers who have outstandingly dealt with the Danube Region in their academic or artistic work. The prize is granted every year on a rotating basis for achievements in the humanities, cultural and social sciences (2022) or in life sciences and is endowed with € 5,000.

The “Danubius Mid-Career Award” is endowed with € 2,200 and has been awarded since 2017 to researchers who are from 5 to a maximum of 15 years after their last formal scientific degree or have equivalent scientific experience. The prize winners were selected by an independent jury of experts chaired by Univ. Prof. Dr. Stefan M. Newerkla (University of Vienna).

Since 2014, special young talent awards, the “Danubius Young Scientist Awards” have also been awarded. The prize, which is open to all disciplines, highlights the scientific work and talent of young researchers and increases the visibility of the excellence of the research community in the Danube Region. In this way, the prizes also contribute to the fact that young scientists deal with the river and the region in a variety of ways. The young talent prizes are endowed with € 1.350, per award winner. The selection was made by an international jury of experts, whereby the candidates for the award were nominated by their respective scientific institutions. 

Austria  Daniela Apaydin  
Bosnia and Herzegovina  Marko Djukanović  
Croatia  Jelena Kranjec Orlović  
Czech Republic  Adela Grimes  
Germany  Jan Schmitt  
Hungary  Blanka Bartos  
Moldova  Nicolae Arnaut  
Montenegro  Miloš Brajović  
Romania  Mihaela Cudalbeanu 
Serbia  Zorana Miletić  
Slovakia  Tibor Zsigmond  
Slovenia  Žane Temova Rakuša  
Ukraine  Illia Diahovchenko  

Watch the Award ceremony below