Monday

12th Apr 2021

MEPs want bigger say in Schengen enlargement process

  • Bulgaria's border with Turkey is still not secure enough, say officials (Photo: European Parliament)

Bulgaria and Romania's delayed entry into the border-free Schengen area highlights the "dishonest" and "club-like atmosphere" of EU decision-making by member states, MEPs argue, calling for more EU institutions to be involved in the process.

Speaking to MEPs on Tuesday (25 January) on behalf of the six-month rotating EU presidency, Hungarian interior minister Sandor Pinter said his country "fully supports" the enlargement of the border-free zone to include Bulgaria and Romania, but stressed that "all technical criteria have to be met".

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

"And reports show that Bulgaria is not yet fully ready when it comes to securing the land border to Turkey," he added.

But the technical issue only emerged after France and Germany in December wrote a joint letter opposing the two countries' accession due to corruption and organised crime - a situation which is being monitored by the European Commission.

"I am not sure what the impact of that letter will be, but 100 percent unanimity is needed in the Council [of Ministers]," Mr Pinter explained.

MEPs dealing with justice and home affairs however point to the lack of transparency and politicking by member states when deciding on which country can join.

With access to documents still being restricted for the European Parliament, whose role remains purely consultative on the Schengen enlargement issue despite beefed up powers in police matters, MEPs say the moment has come to reform the whole system.

"We'll begin the discussions about the new Schengen evaluation system where parliament will have co-decision. For the moment we are only consulted, but we don't even have access to the reports drafted by national experts," Portuguese centre-right MEP Carlos Coelho told this website.

Despite common visa and border security standards being part of EU law, the Lisbon Treaty still left it up to member states alone to decide when a new country is ready to join the Schengen area.

Initially an inter-governmental treaty signed in 1985 by France, West Germany and the Benelux states, Schengen was gradually expanded and included in the EU treaties, with only Ireland and Great Britain opting out. Non-EU members Switzerland, Iceland and Norway are also part of Schengen, but they do not have a vote on new countries coming in.

"The Schengen evaluation mechanism is inadequate. The problem is the lack of honesty in the process and the false pretence that Schengen and corruption monitoring are completely separate. There is also the hidden political agenda of France, who is angry with Romania about the Roma situation last year," British Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford told EUobserver.

"We should get beyond this club atmosphere in the Council and have systematic monitoring for all countries, even after they are in - so as to avoid situations like in Greece," she added, in reference to the 200-or-so border guards sent from other EU countries to help out their Greek colleagues in securing the Turkish land border where most irregular migrants enter the EU.

Mr Coehlo also noted that "member states are very tough on candidates, but very lazy about members of their own club".

"And this is no good in respect to security issues. The same rules have to apply to old and new member states alike," the Portuguese politician stressed.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

Slovenia's populist prime minister Janez Janša attempted to discredit a Brussels reporter after she published a critical article about the state of media freedoms in the country. The European Commission condemned the PM's language - but refrained from naming him.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey blames EU for sexist protocol fiasco
  2. France to close elite civil-service academy
  3. Covid-19 cases in UK drop 60%, study finds
  4. White House urges 'calm' after Northern Ireland riots
  5. Italy's Draghi calls Turkey's Erdoğan a 'dictator'
  6. Slovakia told to return Sputnik V amid quality row
  7. EU risks €87bn in stranded fossil fuel assets
  8. Obligatory vaccination not against human rights, European court says

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. The Covid bell tolls for eastern Europe's populists
  2. Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine
  3. Post-Brexit riots flare up in Northern Ireland
  4. Advice on AstraZeneca varies across EU, amid blood clot fears
  5. Greenland election could see halt to rare-earth mining
  6. After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?
  7. Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal
  8. Does new EU-ACP deal really 'decolonise' aid?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us