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26th Jul 2021

Dutch insist on anti-corruption measures in border row

  • The Dutch parliament is overwhelmingly against Schengen enlargement (Photo: Andrew Griffith)

The Netherlands wants to see two consecutive "positive" EU reports on Bulgaria and Romania's anti-corruption efforts before lifting its veto to their Schengen membership, a Dutch minister has said.

"We need two consecutive positive reports attesting that the progress in fighting corruption and organised crime is irreversible, before we can take a decision on full accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen," Dutch interior minister Gerd Leers told journalists on Tuesday (13 December) after meeting his 26 EU counterparts in Brussels.

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That would delay a decision until at least next July, when a second report after the technical update in February is expected. Both Bulgaria and Romania are still being monitored by the EU commission on the way they follow up on corruption and organised crime.

Schengen evaluations in September concluded that both countries have met all requirements to join the 25-member-strong area, soon to be extended to 26, as Liectenstein on Tuesday was given a green light to join on 19 December.

But Leers says that Schengen is not only about having proper border surveillance equipment and staff, it is also about trusting the rule of law in the two countries.

"If we are handing them the keys to our back door, we must ensure they are guarding it properly. And they still have problems with fighting corruption and organised crime, as the EU reports show," the minister said.

Under a compromise pushed by the Polish EU presidency, all other member states had agreed to let the two countries join Schengen next year with their airports and sea ports first and open the land borders at a later stage. Since unanimity is required, the Dutch stance prevented a decision on the matter.

Leers said the 'two-stage approach' does nothing but show that other countries also do not have full trust in the rule of law in the two countries. "It's about being sure that border guards are not corruptible, that judges do not let criminals walk free. We are not the boogey man. We want to help Bulgaria and Romania tackle this problem," he insisted.

Dutch vegetables

Comments by Romanian President Traian Basescu that he "avoids buying Dutch vegetables" and encouraging citizens to follow his example, added to the bad blood between the two countries after a brief blockade of tulip bulbs at the Romanian border earlier this year.

"This is not about vegetables, it is about corruption. I hope the president respects the internal market, otherwise we may find one more reason why Romania does not belong in Schengen," Leers said.

After the EU leaders summit last week, Basescu expressed his anger at the continued Dutch veto.

"All countries were against the Dutch position, stressing that Romania and Bulgaria respected the EU treaty. The one not respecting the treaty is Netherlands. It is an abuse from the Netherlands," he said, in reference to a provision in the EU accession treaty for Bulgaria and Romania saying they may join Schengen when they have met all the requirements.

Polish interior minister Jacek Cichocki also expressed his disappointment at not being able to force the Dutch to budge on their position.

"Our presidency did all it could, the compromise was acceptable to all of us, but unfortunately there was no unanimity," he told a press conference after the meeting.

EU interior commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom spoke of a "certain frustration" as the commission also supported the Polish compromise.

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Finland has dropped its veto against Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the border-free Schengen area next year, leaving the Netherlands as the only blocking country.

Dutch tulips blocked at Romanian border in Schengen dispute

Romanian authorities blocked Dutch flower imports over the weekend, one day after the Netherlands government announced it would veto Romania and Bulgaria's entry to the border-free Schengen area. Sofia, meanwhile, has threatened to withdraw its support for Schengen reform laws if it's not admitted into the zone.

Romania and Bulgaria lagging behind on reforms

The EU commission says Bulgaria and Romania still have work to do on corruption and organised crime in an opinion that augurs badly for their passport-free travel hopes.

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