Saturday

25th Feb 2017

Bulgaria and Romania to be denied passport-free travel

  • Romania and Bulgaria will have to wait longer for passport-free travel (Photo: adobemac)

EU interior ministers are Thursday (7 March) set to defer a decision on Bulgaria and Romania accession to the passport free zone Schengen zone.

“I think it is clear that there will not be a vote or a decision at tomorrow’s council meeting,” said a EU presidency source on Wednesday.

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Both countries fulfilled the technical requirements in 2011 to allow their citizens to join the 22 other passport free EU countries as well as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution in June 2011 stating that Bulgaria and Romania are ready to join. The resolution urged member states to enlarge the Schengen area based solely on the technical merits.

A unanimous decision is required among member state ministers before full membership is granted. Ministers in March last year noted that all legal conditions had been met but instead opted for a two-step membership approach.

In the first phase, checks on persons would be abolished at internal sea and air borders and between Bulgaria and Romania. The second phase would remove the remaining land border barriers.

But a number of member states, including Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands, say corruption and rule of law undermine Bulgaria and Romania’s bid for full membership.

Germany’s interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich on Monday said “Romania and Bulgaria still have to act with more determination against corruption”.

Any decision or vote on their membership will now most likely be handled by the next EU presidency, run by Lithuania in the second half of this year.

“I think what you will see is a commitment to come back to it before too long, during this year certainly,” said the source.

High-level cases of corruption, organised crime, and judicial reform are among some of the issues highlighted by the European Commission’s report in Bulgaria last year.

The massive protests that swept Bulgaria reflect some of those concerns and unseated Bulgaria’s prime minister Boris Borisov.

In Varna, Bulgaria’s third largest city, protestors ousted the 13-year reign of its mayor who stepped down on Wednesday, a day after a thirty-six year old artist died setting himself on fire outside the gates of city hall.

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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.

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Interior ministers from Austria, Germany, Netherlands, and the UK want to put an end to "benefit tourism," where foreign EU nationals take advantage of social welfare systems in host countries.

Analysis

Why Romania erupted in protest

Current anger over corruption laws can be traced back to a night-club fire in 2015, when many died because of lax safety standards. Romanians then realised that corruption can kill.

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Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

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