3rd Oct 2023

MEPs back Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen bid

  • Bulgaria and Romania hope to join Schengen next year (Photo: johnnyalive)

MEPs dealing with justice and home affairs on Monday (2 May) backed Bulgaria and Romania's bid to enter the border-free Schengen area, already delayed due to French and German reluctance.

Both of the EU's youngest members, who were hoping to have a green light to join Schengen in March, "have met the necessary conditions," MEPs said in a report adopted in the responsible committee and likely to be endorsed by the entire chamber in June.

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Only interior ministers can decide by consensus on who joins the Schengen area, based on evaluations made by national experts. But MEPs gained extra powers in the area of justice and home affairs following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty last year and they are now seeking to reform the Schengen system and have a greater say.

Member states are reluctant to give MEPs a veto right however. An internal document from a meeting of national experts on 5 April suggests the parliament could be persuaded to give up their pursuit of extra powers if member states exercise greater scrutiny over border management.

"The European Parliament might be persuaded to give up co-decision in return for greater transparency by member states and partnership with the European Parliament," the document, seen by EUobserver, reads.

The experts are due to meet again on Tuesday (3 May), on the eve of the publication of proposals by the European Commission on reinstating border checks to stem irregular migration from the Arab world.

According to a draft version dating from 15 April, the commission envisages a "mechanism" spelling out clearly when and for how long border checks can be re-instated if a country is unable to manage its borders or if there is a big influx of migrants.

"Such a mechanism would apply for a limited and pre-determined period of time, until other (emergency) measures have been taken to stabilise the situation at the relevant external border section either at European level, in a spirit of solidarity, and/or at national level, to better comply with the common rules," the draft reads.

Euro-deputies on Monday also called for member states to keep them in the loop about "additional measures" to be taken in the Bulgaria-Greece-Turkey borders, the main entry point for irregular migrants from the Arab world and central Asia on their way to the EU.

Greece, already a member of the border-free area since 2000, last year appealed to the EU to have its land border with Turkey re-inforced by patrols sent by other Schengen states. Deficiencies in securing the Bulgarian-Turkish border in the same region have prompted national experts evaluating the country's preparedness to call for extra measures.

In addition, in December last year, Germany and France publicly expressed their reluctance about "premature" enlargement of the Schengen area, citing corruption as the main stumbling block.

Bucharest and Sofia have since stepped up their efforts, with scores of allegedly corrupt border guards arrested by the Romanian anti-corruption unit.

"Are these two countries ready to enter Schengen? My answer is clearly yes. And this is clear in all the evaluation reports and it is clear from the visit we carried out. In some areas these two countries are even better prepared than some countries who are already Schengen members", said Portuguese centre-right MEP Carlos Coelho, who drafted the parliament's position.

Speaking on Romanian public television last Wednesday, President Traian Basescu said he was not against changing the rules so as to allow for temporary re-instating of border checks, "as long as this is done after Romania and Bulgaria join the area."

The Hungarian EU presidency aims to get an agreement on the Schengen entry date at an interior ministers' meeting on 9 June, with the possibility that the two countries join in the autumn.

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