Romania tells EU: 'We are ready for Schengen when you are'

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Faced with stiff opposition from older EU members, Romania is no longer asking for an accession date to the Union’s borderless Schengen area. “We are ready for Schengen when you are”, Romanian Interior Minister Radu Stroe will tell his colleagues at a meeting in Brussels today (5 December).

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has asked Stroe to tell EU ministers that Romania remains ready for Schengen accession, but will not beg for a date, as it is sick and tired of being told “next time”, the Romanian press reports.

The issue will discussed by EU ministers today at 3PM Brussels time, according to the agenda of the ministerial meeting.

Legally members?                                                 

It has been more than three years since the European Commission considered that Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, were technically ready to join Schengen.

Michele Cercone, spokesperson to Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, said on Monday that “legally speaking, Bulgaria and Romania are part of the Schengen space”.

However, a number of older EU members, in particular the Netherlands and Germany, oppose the accession of the two newcomers to Schengen and have used their veto on a number of occasions.

At a session of the Romanian government on Tuesday, Ponta said:

“Whatever depends on us for Schengen accession we did it, whatever depends from member states they can do it when they want. We no longer wait to be given a date. When they will finish all their national election, when they will sort out all their problems, they will find us ready,” Ponta said, referring to the prevailing populist attitudes of the political class in Western countries.

Different media outlets cite different countries as being the most opposed to the Schengen accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Netherlands and Finland are the most frequently mentioned, but also Germany and France. Paris however has been more open-minded lately, signalling that it would not opposes a gradual accession of the two applicants to Schengen – first with their air and sea borders, and at a second stage with their land borders.

Confusion?

Some statements by Western politicians signal a confusion or even misunderstanding of the issue.

Schengen accession will not “open Western borders” to Bulgarians and Romanians, who are free to travel to the Schengen space since 2001. It would not either impact on the arrival to the West of Roma population from the two countries. Schengen is also unrelated to the so-called “Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” (CVM) set by the Commission to help Bulgaria and Romania overcome shortcomings in their law-enforcement systems.

Nevertheless, many politicians in the West have said they would not open their doors to Roma population, and the Netherlands says it would only lift its veto after two successive positive CVM reports. All reports so far have been critical, the next one being due in January 2014.

When Bulgaria and Romania eventually join Schengen, border controls at the Greek-Bulgarian border and at the Hungary-Romanian border will disappear. Greece, which is a Schengen member since 1992, has so far no land border with Schengen. Also, travel to and from Bulgaria and Romania at airports would be exempt of passport control.

Some analysts have said that the recent wave of immigration impacts on Schengen enlargement. Greece is stranded with immigrants which would be tempted to leave this country and seek opportunities further north in the EU. 

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