Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

French attack harms Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen hopes

  • Waiting in line: Bulgaria and Romania had wanted to join Schengen in 2011 (Photo: The Hamster Factor)

The EU is set to toughen rule enforcement in the Schengen Zone following the terrorist attacks in France, making it likely that Romania and Bulgaria will face more hurdles in their already lengthy attempt to join the passport-free area.

The two Balkan neighbours have failed over the years to get the required consensus among Schengen's 26 members to join the borderless club.

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  • Bulgaria has a long precarious border with Turkey (Photo: wfbakker2)

Following the Paris terrorist attacks earlier this month, there are fears the chances of joining are now much dimmer.

The issue was the main topic for Romanian president Klaus Iohannis when he visited the EU capital last week.

Some are already making the direct link in public.

"We are in a very desperate situation, all our aspiration for Schengen are gone bust after what happened in Paris. And the classical countries - Germany, France - continue to make this error of believing that the East is East again," centre-right Romanian MEP Traian Ungureanu told HotNews.

"For instance when the Bulgarians caught a guy who was ready to leave to Syria, they had the proof that the traffic goes through there," Ungureanu noted, referring to a Frenchman with links to the Paris attackers who was caught trying to cross into Syria from Bulgaria.

Carlos Coelho, a Portuguese centre-right MEP who worked on the issue in the last legislature, also acknowledged that Schengen members will likely have the Paris events foremost on their minds.

“I hope everybody realises that there is no connection between the free movement in the Schengen area and what happened in Paris – these were terrorist attacks made by French citizens,” he told this website.

“I am afraid that member states are now more focused on security issues than on enlarging the zone of free movement … (and) that the mood is not in favour of enlarging the Schengen area", he added.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in January 2007 and hoped to be admitted in Schengen no later than 2011.

But countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands have opposed the move.

While recognising that the two countries match technical requirements to be part of the area, Paris, Berlin and The Hague are sceptical about the domestic judiciary and law enforcement.

Bulgaria and Romania are still being monitored through the EU so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which is meant to bring their justice and home affairs systems in line with the EU standards and to rid them from corruption.

The latest CVM report is expected later this month.

Although the commission, which produces the report, has repeatedly cautioned against linking the mechanism to Schengen, the commission's assessment has often been held up as a justification for delaying entry.

In addition to internal graft issues, there is the reality on Bulgaria's border.

Bugaria's border

Bulgaria borders Turkey, and since the start of the Syria civil war and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Balkan member states has been exposed to unprecedented migration pressure.

Turkey is one of the main transit routes for the so-called foreign fighters travelling to join the Islamic State or returning from there.

Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov said police have arrested and sent back to Turkey more than 3,000 immigrants.

The country hosts another 3,700 in refugee camps accommodation centres in Sofia and in the countryside.

Two-thirds of them originate from Syria. There have been more than 12,000 asylum-seekers since the start of 2014. Some 5,500 asylum requests have been granted.

The government has installed a sophisticated surveillance system along the 259-kilometre border with Turkey and has started building a barbed-wire fence to discourage crossings and deviate migrant flows to border check-points.

“If Bulgaria and Romania should be in the Schengen area, they would be applying all the controls foreseen in it, including the alert for discrete surveillance,” Coelho said.

“With Bulgaria and Romania out of the Schengen area we have no chance to force those two countries to apply the Schengen rules the way they are being applied in many others.”

Centre-right Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev made a similar point.

“If the EU wants to strengthen its external borders, it just can’t ignore Bulgaria, which is the potentially most dangerous spot in terms of immigration influx."

Romania's political turmoil may hit Schengen bid

Romania's current constitutional turmoil may ultimately result in its longed-for entry into the EU's passport-free zone being delayed still further, the European Commission warned Wednesday.

Germany to veto Schengen enlargement

Germany says it will veto Romania and Bulgaria's bid to join the border-free Schengen area at a meeting in Brussels later this week.

EU raises alarm on Bulgaria corruption

Seven years after joining the EU, Bulgaria has done little to curb corruption and organised crime in a threat to its sovereignty and to European unity.

Opinion

Romania: Cleaning up needs stamina

Iohannis' election as president was a signal the country is on a good path. But can the political will to reform outlast election euphoria?

Romania wants EU signal on Schengen membership

Bucharest expects other member states to decide on its accession to the passport-free area before it takes the rotating EU presidency on 1 January 2019 - amid criticism of a controversial new justice reform.

Bulgaria's corruption problem mars EU presidency start

A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

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