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24/07/2016

Norway considers abandoning Schengen membership

Justice & Home Affairs

Norway considers abandoning Schengen membership

Roma campsite in Norway. [Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria]

A member of the governing coalition in Norway, a non-EU country that is a member of the Schengen passport-free area, said it would be in the country’s interest to take care of its own borders.

The Norwegian media reported that Jenny Klinge, an MP from the Centre Party (Senterpartiet), a government coalition partner, said the Schengen Agreement makes it easier for criminals to enter the country. She insisted that the government re-take control of the country's borders.

Klinge said the problem was particularly serious because Bulgaria and Romania could enter the Schengen area in the autumn.

A decision on Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the European passport-free area has been long overdue. A ministerial meeting in September will come back to the issue, but the outcome remains uncertain as a number of countries, including the Netherlands, remain opposed.

Bulgarian news media quoted Klinge as saying that if and when Bulgaria and Romania become part of Schengen, it would be very difficult for Norwegian authorities to deal with organised crime coming from that region. A European Commission report published last week says Bulgarian organised crime groups are active in 15 EU member states and are among the most widespread in Europe.

Romanian news media reported that Klinge’s statement came after some 200 migrants, mostly Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, caused public outrage for settling in a privately owned gravel pit in Oslo.

Television channels showed the Roma in the gravel pit, living in dismal conditions. Citizens leaving nearby complained of littering and expressed fears for the spread of epidemics.

In the meantime, Romanian interim President Crin Antonescu was quoted as saying that he didn’t believe his country would join Schengen anytime soon. He said that this would not be a consequence of the political crisis in his country, but rather of problem inherited from the previous government.

The Roma in Bulgaria and Romania, just as other EU citizens, have the right to travel without a visa in the Schengen area. The two countries' accession to the passport-free area is seen as a threat by some European countries primarily due to organised crime but also because fear about the two countries' ability to control illegal migration from non-EU countries.

Background

On 14 June 1985, five EU countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – began the process of further developing European integration by removing border controls.

The Schengen Area has grown rapidly, both geographically and in terms of the number of people benefiting from free movement. Today, over 400 million Europeans from 25 European countries enjoy passport-free travel across the area.

All EU countries except UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania are Schengen members. Bulgaria and Romania are technically ready to join Schengen, but face political obstacles due to what critics say is their deficient law-enforcement systems. Non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are Schengen members.

Today Schengen is an area of cooperation with 42,673 km of sea and 7,721 km of land borders.  Europeans make over 1.25 billion journeys as tourists every year and can visit friends and relatives all over Europe without obstacles at internal borders.

Further Reading

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