Barbarians at the Gates: Schengen Remains Closed for Bulgaria and Romania

By Vihar Georgiev, PhD student at the European Studies Department of the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. He is also a lecturer at the Center for European Programs of the American University in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Institute for Public Administration. The article was originally published in Slovak daily Pravda in the op-ed section.

Imagine that you want to join a club. The club has some written requirements for new members and you comply with all of them. However, your application to join is repeatedly rejected. How would you feel?

This is, more or less, what has happened with Bulgaria and Romania in their bid to join the Schengen borderless area. Earlier in June the Ministers of the Interior of both countries presented at a high level conference in Sofia the efforts made to prove that they are capable of protecting the external European borders. Bulgaria and Romania did not spare resources and acquired the latest security technology and streamlined their border security procedures with the best practices in Europe. The European Parliament also recommended the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen with 487 votes in favour to 77 votes against.

So why is the EU keeping the two countries out of the Schengen club? Some of the “old” Member States have raised objections, and this prevents the procedure from moving forward. The group of naysayers includes France, Italy, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. France and Germany have been especially vocal in their opposition, claiming that there are many flaws in the areas of security, justice, and the fight against corruption and organized crime in both countries. That is why it was decided to wait for the July reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism by the European Commission. These reports will assess the progress in the fields of judicial reform, and the fight against corruption and organised crime in Bulgaria and Romania. After that the Council of Ministers of the EU will discuss the issue again.

But does this denial of entry in the Schengen club constitute discrimination? It’s hard to say. One of the hidden motives may be the influx of migrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East after the Arab Spring. The Bulgarian-Turkish border is especially vulnerable. Each year between 30 and 50 thousand illegal migrants cross from Turkey to Greece and only a thousand or so are sent back. It is feared that Bulgaria will also become an attractive destination for such illegal immigrants as a first step in their voyage to richer EU countries. Romania is also vulnerable to immigration pressure from Moldova and Ukraine.

An even deeper reason for the delayed accession to Schengen is the lack of long-term strategy for border security in the EU. Today Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and the Czech Republic are practically insulated from direct exposure to border security risks, while Italy, Spain, Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Greece face increasing challenges that are already detrimental to their national security. Slovakia is also exposed to irregular immigration from Ukraine. If we want to keep the benefits of a borderless area, we need to provide sufficient funds, equipment and trained staff to the pressure points of the common EU border that need them.

However, the EU is not going in that direction. On June, 24th the EU leaders agreed to establish a “safeguard mechanism” allowing the re-introduction of internal borders in exceptional circumstances. Instead of going forward, the EU has stepped backward. The future will show the consequences of this short-sighted decision.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree with the bit about the EU not being consistent and this harming their credibility. At the same time I would argue that Romania (and Bulgaria, too, for that matter) have a long way to go to ensuring they can properly be expected to respect Schengen requirements. I felt that their accession was premature and that the CVM mechanism was a way of allowing them to be EU-lite member states, without bludgeoning them with yet another postponement (the regular monitoring reports suggested little improvement in the political/legal areas). If they can get their judiciaries in order, improve administrative capacity, and rein in corruption, then I’ll be inclined to say they are more than ready to be allowed into Schengen. Until then, I have to agree with the old boys.

  2. It was never about security or corruption.It was always about money and power.Every country from UE took a part of romanian economy, mostly we are speaking about huge companies with important potential: more exactly Austria-Petrom+important local banks,Italy-parts of Electrica,France-Distrigaz,Grece-other banks+Romtelecom,Germany-other part of Distrigaz and more other examples.Nederlands was the only country to say NO to Romania in Schengen.We don’t need to improve out system ,the Dutch maybe didn’t take their part or didn’t take enough.Good luck with you with speculations about thr subject and with “democracy”!

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