25th Oct 2016

Netherlands, Finland oppose Schengen enlargement

  • Bulgaria and Romania had hoped to join the border-free area this year (Photo: adobemac)

An interior ministers' meeting on Thursday (22 September) is unlikely to approve a phased-in entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the border-free Schengen area, due to Dutch and Finnish concerns about corruption and organised crime.

Both the Finnish and Dutch parliaments in recent days have given their governments a clear "no" mandate for the Schengen enlargement, including to what the Polish EU presidency had put forward as a compromise solution palatable to France and Germany, that airports and sea ports be accepted into the area this year and a decision on lifting the land borders be taken by 31 July 2012.

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"There will be no agreement tomorrow (Thursday). We have no idea when the issue will be picked up again, but it looks increasingly bad for our Romanian and Bulgarian friends," one EU diplomat told this website after a meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday in preparation of the council meeting.

Allowing new countries into the 25-strong Schengen area requires the unanimous approval of 22 EU states part of this zone (non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland have no voting rights).

"They do fulfil the technical requirements for joining, but we don’t have complete confidence that these countries will be able to secure outer EU borders because of corruption, among other issues," Finnish interior minister Paivi Rasanen told YLE News.

The Finnish veto comes after a long-standig "No" from the Dutch government, also complaining about "serious deficiencies" in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Both Bulgaria and Romania continue to be monitored by the European Commission in their efforts to reform the judiciary and efficiently fight graft and crime. Legally, there is no link between that process and the Schengen evaluation - which was successfully completed earlier this year.

But since enlargement of the common borders is also a political decision and a matter of trust, the link has been made as early as December 2010 when France and Germany jointly protested against a "premature" entry of the two. Both Berlin and Paris have since shifted, Polish EU presidency sources say, agreeing to the phased-in approach.

The European Parliament, whose vote is only consultative, has also called on member states to accept the two countries because they meet all technical requirements.

Social-Democrats in the EP on Wednesday warned against "double standards" applied to the new member states which would create a "two-tier EU citizenship" if Schengen membership is withheld from them. In practical terms, however, the matter does not affect regular citizens who can travel passport-free across the bloc. It does affect lorries and buses, which are halted at the borders.

Meanwhile, in a move Romanian authorities claim to be not related to the Dutch stance, all flower imports from the Netherlands have been seized and blocked at the Romanian-Hungarian border. An EU commission spokesman on Wednesday said that Bucharest informed them of the move, citing sanitary concerns.

"The Romanians also said the transports had no proper 'plant passports', which are required for the delivery," the spokesman said. Bacteriological tests are being carried out and results are expected at the end of this week, the spokesman said.

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