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28/09/2016

EU in danger unless Bulgaria joins Schengen, says Sofia

Justice & Home Affairs

EU in danger unless Bulgaria joins Schengen, says Sofia

Meglena Kuneva [Dnevnik]

Bulgaria cannot check if incoming refugees are registered as criminals or terrorists in the Schengen Information System. This puts the EU in danger, because it is blocked from joining the borderless space, said Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva.

At a time when the EU is preparing major concessions to Turkey in exchange for containing the migration crisis, Kuneva, a former European Commissioner, now a member of the center-right government of Boyko Borissov, raised an argument in favour of the long-delayed Schengen accession of Bulgaria.

Indeed, for several years now, Bulgaria and Romania have been considered fit to enter Schengen by the European Commission, which is the only EU body qualified to make a judgement.

But decision-making in this field requires consensus, and Germany in particular has reportedly been opposed to the Schengen accession of Bulgaria and Romania, who joined the EU in 2007, and who have been trying to join the zone since.

Germany’s position vis-à-vis Bulgaria and Romania is hard to understand, while Berlin makes major openings to Ankara, seeming to forget Turkey’s immediate neighbors in the broader picture.

>>Read: Turkey’s Erdogan calls the shots at EU summit

Bulgaria in limbo

Kuneva said on Bulgarian radio on 18 October that the current situation of the country’s Schengen limbo was “hard to tolerate” for the country’s authorities.

She stressed that without access to the Schengen Information System (SIS), Bulgaria could not check the identities of migrants with the database of known criminals and potential terrorists.

Bulgaria has been very effective in registering migrants on its territory, in sharp contrast with Greece and Italy. Refugees avoid Bulgaria precisely because they risk being registered. Many of them fear of being registered in Bulgaria, because it availas them to be returned by by the authorities of Western EU countries.

Kuneva said that without Schengen membership, it was not clear how Bulgaria could contribute to the strengthening of Frontex, the EU agency for the management of the bloc’s external borders, a goal emphasised at the recent EU summit on 15-16 October.

Kuneva commented on the shooting of an Afghan migrant by Bulgarian police not far from the Turkish border, an incident which prompted the early departure of Prime Minister Borissov from the summit meeting.

She said that Borissov made the right decision to leave the EU summit, which “gave the right signal” that Bulgaria gives the highest importance to the migration crisis.

An Afghan refugee was shot dead in the night of 15 October, close to the Bulgarian town of Sredets, not far from the Turkish border. An investigation found that the policeman fired a warning shot in the air, and that the deadly bullet made a ricochet on a nearby bridge.

The German position with regard to Bulgaria’s Schengen accession was well illustrated by European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Answering a question during the EU summit, Schulz said that Bulgaria would defend its Turkish border regardless of whether it is a Schengen member or not.

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