Monday

12th Apr 2021

Romania could join Schengen before Bulgaria, minister says

Romania's foreign minister Teodor Baconschi has said his country is keen to join the Schengen area at the same time as Bulgaria, but underlined that the rules on joining the visa-free zone do not prevent Romania from entering at an earlier date.

The issue of separate accession dates has become more pertinent following a decision last month by an evaluation group of member states' experts to grant Romania a clean bill of health regarding its compliance with technical accession criteria, while raising concerns over Bulgaria's land borders and its readiness to participate in an intergovernmental database.

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

  • A poster in Switzerland warning voters against Schengen accession. The non-EU country eventually joined in 2008 (Photo: Lars Francke)

"We would like to see the two countries entering at the same date but ... we are still insisting on the principle that you need to evaluate each candidate state on its individual merits," Mr Baconschi told EUobserver in an interview in Brussels on Tuesday (1 February).

"So we don't need to [wait] and it is a risk to renounce that principle because this is the most fair and objective criteria."

EU officials say the accession of the two countries has always been treated as a joint event. They point out that an any attempt by Romania to join the 25-member area before Bulgaria would first require a close assessment of their shared border.

"This takes at least a year," said one official. "While the Danube river makes up the vast majority of this border, placing border guards on bridges are among the actions that would need to be carried out to secure the Schengen area's new external border."

Originally scheduled for March of this year, Romania and Bulgaria's accession hopes also suffered a setback last December following the publication of a letter by the German and French interior ministers, effectively tearing up the original timetable by linking Schengen entry to Sofia and Bucharest's compliance with the 'co-operation and verification mechanism' (CVM).

The European Commission and member states put pressure on the two countries, widely perceived to have been unready for EU membership in 2007, to accept regular monitoring on anti-corruption and judicial reforms efforts under the CVM, rather than delaying membership.

Bucharest is upset at the last-minute link-up however, pointing to the considerable investments it has made in upgrading border security, computer systems and airport infrastructure in order to comply with the old timetable.

"From a legal and political point of view it is incorrect to establish such a connection between the two issues," said Mr Baconschi. "We think CVM is useful, so long as it is used for its original purpose of promoting judicial reform."

While experts say there is a clear logic in linking anti-corruption efforts with accession to a visa-free zone, officials also acknowledge the issue has become caught up with a recent European squabble over Roma migration and upcoming elections in Germany and France.

"There are genuine concerns over corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, but I also get the feeling that the issue has become increasingly political," said one Brussels-based source.

Hungary, current holders of the EU's rotating presidency, has indicated it would like member states to approve the two Schengen applications before the end of this June, but a raft of regional elections in Germany this year, coupled with French presidential elections in May 2012, could result in a much longer delay.

This, warns Mr Baconschi, threatens to fuel Romanian euroscepticism and further aggravate tensions between old and new EU member states.

"We are not in the Desert of Tartars, just to wait without any date for our accession," he said. "It is a matter of responsibility and if we really want to continue the European process we have to play by the rules."

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