Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

Hurdles remain for Schengen hopefuls Bulgaria and Romania

  • Johansson (r): "Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia are ready to join. And I should say the European Union is ready to welcome." (Photo: European Union, 2022)
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The European Commission is mounting pressure for Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to join the border free Schengen area.

On Wednesday (16 November), it presented a 13-page document explaining why they should become part of the zone.

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Ylva Johansson, the EU home affairs commissioner, told reporters in Brussels that the document may help convince the Netherlands and Sweden to support their accession.

"These three member states deserve to feel fully European," she told reporters.

Both Amsterdam and Stockholm are weary of Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the Schengen area, currently composed of 26 countries including 22 EU states.

Last month, the Dutch parliament adopted a resolution stating their opposition to Romania and Bulgaria.

They said that corruption and organised crime in both countries poses a threat to the Netherlands and the Schengen area.

Sweden is also likely to say no for similar reasons, reported the Swedish press.

The Council, representing member states, will be tabling their accession vote to the Schengen area on 8 December. Croatia's accession vote will likely be taken separately from Bulgaria and Romania.

But it is unclear if the required unanimous decision among EU states will be met for all three, especially for Bulgaria and Romania.

The European Commission has been pressing for Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession since 2011 but without success. So too has the European Parliament, in a resolution passed last month.

Johannson said a recent fact finding mission composed of experts from 17 EU states declared both to be Schengen ready. She said all three are able to manage the external borders of the Union, including possible security threats.

Yet Slovenia is now also threatening to re-introduce internal border checks with neighbouring Croatia, should Zagreb join the passport free club.

"Now, with Croatia joining Schengen, we do not want Slovenia to become a pocket due to increases in migrants and refugees," said Tanja Fajon, Slovenia's foreign minister, on Monday.

The threat stems from migrants using the Western Balkans route to enter the EU. The EU's border police Frontex says it had detected 22 300 irregular crossings along the route in October, nearly three times as many as a year ago.

The EU commission has in the past said such internal checks pose a risk to the Schengen area, a sacrosanct achievement of the European Union.

But it has also been powerless to stop them. Over 300 have been invoked, primarily to stem migration, since 2015.

The commission has since introduced Schengen reforms it hopes will remove the perceived need to impose internal controls.

Part of those reforms gives police more powers to chase and arrest migrants in other EU states.

Fundamental rights

The commission's 13 page document says all three have to ensure fundamental rights and data protection at the external borders.

It also said Bulgaria has put in "place strong border management ensuring quality border surveillance and systematic border checks."

Yet earlier this month, a Bulgarian border officer was shot dead at the Turkish border by suspected migrant traffickers.

And over the summer, a report by Human Rights Watch accused Bulgaria of beating, robbing, and stripping Afghan and other asylum seekers and forcing them back into Turkey.

So too has Croatia, says the Centre for Peace Studies, a Croatian rights NGO. They say that Croatia has carried out 2,600 cases of illegal deportation in the first eight months of 2022.

Opinion

Let's end Bulgaria and Romania's 11-year Schengen purgatory

The Schengen area is undoubtedly one of the EU's greatest achievements. Unrestricted travel benefits millions of European citizens and businesses. But for Bulgaria and Romania, the EU has yet to make this borderless dream come true.

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