European Parliament (EP) members on Thursday (October 13th) approved a resolution urging all EU member states to allow Bulgaria and Romania to join the so-called Schengen border check-free area. The call came despite fierce opposition to the bids from the Netherlands and Finland.
“Romania and Bulgaria have fulfilled all the criteria for successful conclusion of the Schengen evaluation process,” stated the document, pointing out Bucharest’s and Sofia’s bids should be judged “solely on the basis of existing membership criteria”.
The EP rejected a proposal to introduce additional criteria for the two countries by strengthening the Schengen acquis on the basis of concerns related to organised crime and corruption.
Thursday’s resolution came on the heels of a similar document approved by a large majority at the EP in June. It signals a general agreement that the two candidates have done what was required in order to boost security at their borders.
At a meeting of the EU interior ministers in September, however, the Netherlands and Finland announced their decision to veto Bulgaria’s and Romania’s Schengen accession, citing ongoing problems with corruption and organised crime.
Romanian political scientist Gabriel Andreescu agrees these are serious issues. He adds another concern associated with his country.
“There are also the troubles related to the Romanian citizens who disturb life in Western Europe villages and cities,” he told SETimes.
Franz-Lothar Altmann, associate professor at Bucharest State University and head of the Western Balkans Section at the German Institute for International Politics and Security, believes domestic politics in Finland and the Netherlands is playing a role.
“Strong right-wing populist parties exist that have substantial influence on internal politics,” he told SETimes, indicating that “sceptical remarks” about their bids can also be heard from Austria.
Bulgarian analyst Tihomira Trifonova, from the Centre for Policy Modernisation, agrees. “In terms of technical preparations to control and guard the EU’s external borders, I see no reasons why Bulgaria should not join Schengen,” she told SETimes.
“The problem right now is of a purely political nature and has to do with public pressure that politicians in some EU member states are facing,” she said.
As for the next meeting of EU interior ministers later this month, experts are not that hopeful.
“Bulgaria and Romania will hardly join Schengen before next year,” says Trifonova.
Andreescu agrees. “The Western countries have today a lot of reason to delay the two countries’ accession to Schengen.”