22nd Oct 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".

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"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.

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