Saturday

26th Nov 2022

Bulgaria, Romania tie migrant quotas to Schengen

  • Romania and Bulgaria could become attractive for refugees as transit countries, if admitted to Schengen. It opens up a new route from Greece to mainland Europe for migrants. (Photo: andynash)

Bulgaria and Romania will tie the adoption of mandatory migrant relocation quotas to their admission in the EU border-free Schengen zone, a senior Bulgarian government official has confirmed.

“Bulgaria and Romania share a stance different from [that of] the Visegrad Four”, Bulgarian deputy prime minister Meglena Kuneva told reporters on Wednesday (9 September), referring to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, who are reluctant to take compulsory burden-sharing quotas and insist on tightening EU external border controls instead.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Bulgaria has seen a 470 per cent surge of migration pressure between 2012 and 2014 until beefing up border security and building more than 30 kilometres of razor-wire fence. (Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis)

The two countries' prime ministers, Boiko Borisov and Victor Ponta, agreed in a recent telephone call to maintain a joint position on the matter at Monday's (14 September) meeting of interior and justice ministers, Kuneva said.

Asked specifically by a reporter if Bulgaria would support mandatory quotas, she replied: "Yes, I think it is in our interest … I don't want the East Europeans to look less humane in this discussion, because there is the [nub] of the problem.”

She noted, however, that accepting an obligatory quota does not prevent her country from negotiating the number of migrants.

Under a previous relocation scheme which the European Commission proposed in May, Bulgaria agreed to take in some 500 refugees from Greece and Italy. The newly-proposed scheme requires it to accept another 1,500.

In Romania, conservative president Klaus Iohannis said his country should receive around 1,700 refugees on a voluntary basis and rejected the Commission's call for a quota of 6,351.

"I don't consider it as a solution to talk about mandatory quotas made in a bureaucratic manner, without consulting member states," he said on Thursday (10 September). "We are speaking about people and not about pieces which can be counted."

Ponta

The socialist PM Victor Ponta does not officially back mandatory quotas, but he indirectly indicated that this will be discussed at the ministers' meeting on Monday.

Ponta voiced sympathy for a common EU approach on the refugee issue, but he said the EU should also show solidarity to nations such as Romania.

"The very countries that now require us to be united in dealing with refugees are countries that have kept postponing Romania's entry into Schengen," he said.

"Schengen is as essential to Europe as the Economic and Monetary Union is," Bulgaria's Kuneva said, adding, "that is why we want Schengen to develop and stay part not only of the free movement, but of the security and the political prestige of Europe."

A possible enlargement of the Schengen zone with Bulgaria and Romania requires a consensus of its member states' interior ministers.

The two Balkan neighbours have been waiting for eight years as the Netherlands has squarely opposed their admission and other countries such as Germany, France and Finland have voiced reservations, all citing the two countries' persisting problems with judiciary and high-level corruption.

Accession to Schengen is seen as a matter of national pride.

In Romania, this has become an "obsession", Cristian Ghinea, a director at the the Romanian Center for European Policies (RCEP), told EUobserver.

Meglena Kuneva, a former EU commissioner now in charge of European affairs in the Bulgarian government, told reporters that all sceptical member states, including the Netherlands, were now ready to drop their opposition in recognition of the recent progress authorities in Bucharest and Sofia have made in reforming their legal systems and stamping out graft.

Scandals

In Romania, the process led to the imprisonment of former Prime Minister, Adrian Nastase, and to a case against Ponta himself.

Kuneva added that Schengen countries had a direct security interest to admit Bulgaria and Romania into the area.

Having access to Bulgaria and Romania's police databases would allow other Schengen countries to capture wanted suspects from the migrant flow at their borders, while now they can only check the authenticity of their documents, Kuneva said.

"There is no condition on the part of Romania to accept additional refugees in return for accession to the Schengen Area," a spokesperson for the Romanian government told EUobserver.

"But it would be fair for Romania (and for Bulgaria too) to receive a final decision [on Schengen] in October."

Making it clear in negotiations that there will be a direct swap of "Schengen for refugees" could, however, be a controversial move.

"There can be no question of directly conditioning" Schengen entry on a refugee quota, Romania's former foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu told EUobserver.

"But it is obvious that allowing Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen area is a correct and necessary decision to strengthen the EU's eastern border in such a difficult time,” he added.

"The European Commission position is that both countries fulfill the criteria to become members of the Schengen area but this is a decision for the member countries to take," Natasha Bertaud, a Commission spokeswoman said.

Sofia and Bucharest may not get satisfaction, as "there are some downsides," Cristian Ghinea, from the RCEP think-tank, said.

"Romania and Bulgaria could become attractive for refugees as a transit country. It would open up a new route from Greece to mainland Europe."

Difficulties

It will be difficult for the two countries to advocate lifting borders at a time when most countries are trying to secure them.

Bulgaria, the poorest EU state which has an almost 300-kilometer land border with Turkey, stands on one of the main migration routes from the Middle East to Europe.

It has seen a 470 percent surge of migration pressure between 2012 and 2014 until it built more than 30 kilometres of razor-wire fencing.

It is currently hosting more than 13,000 illegal migrants mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Romania, the refugee problem is a national security issue, and the exact quota will be finalised after a meeting of the Supreme Council of National Defence (CSAT), which includes the Prime Minister, President, and head of the Intelligence Services.

Hungary rejects EU offer to take refugees

The EU's migrant relocation plan would have relieved Hungary of 54,000 asylum-seekers, but Hungary said on Thursday it did not want to have any part in the quota scheme.

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year. Sweden's ambassador to the EU, Lars Danielsson, laid out some of its priorities.

French official accused of conflict over EU fish lobby job

A senior French official is being accused of conflicts of interest for spearheading a leading role in Europeche, a fishing-industry lobby group based in Brussels. The hire comes as the EU Commission threatens a lawsuit against France over fishing.

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year. Sweden's ambassador to the EU, Lars Danielsson, laid out some of its priorities.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges
  2. The 'proof' problem with EU sanctions — and how to fix it
  3. The EU gas cap: will the bottle ever be 'uncorked'?
  4. Enough talk, only rights can eliminate patriarchal violence
  5. Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'
  6. EU Commission to keep Hungary's EU funds in limbo
  7. 'No substance' price ceiling for gas leaves everyone disgruntled
  8. Paying consumers who save most energy could tame gas prices

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us