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22nd Jan 2021

Romania targets new MEPs in expanding Schengen backlash

  • Romania's Parliament may block the 18 extra MEPs from taking their seats (Photo: IMF)

Romania's diplomatic offensive on entering the border-free Schengen zone has expanded to the Lisbon Treaty, with local lawmakers threatening to derail a Lisbon protocol on the appointment of 18 extra MEPs.

Speaking to the Romanian NewsIn news agency on Tuesday (4 January), Attila Korodi, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower chamber of the Romanian parliament, revealed that the assembly in December decided to postpone until February its ratification of a Lisbon protocol allowing 12 EU states to appoint 18 extra members to the European Parliament.

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The decision was made at a joint meeting between the foreign affairs committees in the lower and upper houses in late December, shortly after Germany and France urged Brussels to block Romania's entry into Schengen due to corruption and organised crime.

According to the protocol, France is to gain two extra MEPs, while Germany can keep all 99 of its already elected MEPs until 2014, when its allocated seats will drop to 96. The Netherlands will also get an extra euro-deputy, while Spain would get four, among other provisions.

The protocol was designed to rectify the problem that the current EU legislature was elected on Nice Treaty rules but that Lisbon Treaty rules came into force six months after the elections.

"The talks were very tough, we said we'll delay [the decision] for another month to see what the situation is. But the principle was: Why should we comply to everything, and the big powers - Germany - always get an immediate derogation," Mr Korodi said, in reference to the special provision allowing Germany to keep its three MEPs for four years.

His counterpart in the Senate, Titus Corlatean - himself a former Socialist MEP - also said there is a "matter of principle" about why smaller member states "are obliged to respect all the rules, while big member states get derogations, which are accepted."

If Romania rejects the protocol it would hurt Spain more than Germany and France, or the Netherlands, another member state opposed to its Schengen accession.

French MEPs get paid less than national MPs and there is little appetite to take up the extra posts. Without the protocol, Germany would keep the 99 MEPs until 2014 and the new Dutch seat would go a representative of the anti-immigrant Geert Wilders party.

Spain has fought the hardest to put the protocol in place, even convening a mini-intergovernmental gaggle on 23 June 2010, a few weeks before its EU presidency ended, at which the protocol was signed by all EU members and at which EU governments pledged to wrap up ratification by the new year.

"They are using the wrong tool if they want to pressure France or Germany, since neither of them are going to win from the 18 MEPs," Pedro Lopez de Pablo, spokesman for the Spanish centre-right group in the European Parliament told this website.

The Lisbon Treaty threat represents a new front in Romania's Schengen offensive after the country's foreign minister earlier threatened to create problems for Croatia's EU entry by insisting that the EU imposes an anti-corruption mechanism on the Balkan country on the model of the so-called CVM process imposed on Romania in 2007. The minister also threatened to unilaterally drop Romania's CVM if it does not get its way on the passport-free zone.

During a regular press briefing on Tuesday, European Commission spokesman Olivier de Bailly warned against "mixing up" the Croatia and the Schengen procedures. Natacha Butler, the commission's spokeswoman for enlargement added: "The mechanism that was put in place for Romania and Bulgaria should not constitute a precedent."

The commission also spelled out that, in legal terms, Romania cannot ditch its CVM, because the decision to phase out the mechanism is a commission prerogative.

For its part, Zagreb reacted cautiously to the developments. "We are convinced that Romania will continue, as it has until now, to support Croatia's entry into the EU," Mario Dragun, a spokesman for the Croatian foreign ministry said in a statement.

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