An enormous blunder did not prevent Germany from creating a major opening yesterday (9 March), when its foreign minister said that Berlin was open to talks on allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the borderless Schengen zone, which has been a delicate subject among European countries.
“We are ready to support the discussion process” regarding the bloc’s two poorest members, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier — flanked by his Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu — told a press conference in Bucharest.
In front of reporters, Aurescu offered Steinmeier a brochure with the map of France painted with the colours of Germany.
The German minister proudly exhibited the brochure. Aurescu subsequently apologised to Steinmeier, who said he hadn’t noticed the gaffe.
The Schengen agreement imposes border controls on people entering and leaving the zone, but none on travels within the bloc. It has already been signed by 26 countries, 22 of them EU members.
“The security situation has changed,” but “we are going to continue working hard” so that non-Schengen countries can meet membership requirements, Steinmeier added.
Since 2010, the Commission has reiterated that Bulgaria and Romania are technically ready to join the Schengen area. But as the decision could only be taken by unanimity, several member states, including the Netherlands, have insisted that the two countries should first make progress under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which monitors the efficiency of their law-enforcement systems.
The Commission has said that CVM and Schengen are unrelated issues.
A January CVM report by the European Commission highlighted the progress made by Bulgaria and Romania in the area of judicial reform.
“The interior ministries will have to decide their next steps,” Steinmeier said.
Though Romania and Bulgaria have been EU members since 2007, they have been trying to win entry into the passport-free zone since 2011 without success.
Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta said in December his country was finally ready to be part of the Schengen area, which he noted was an opinion “shared by most European leaders.”
Germany has also said that Bulgaria and Romania do not meet the criteria to join Schengen.
A German opening on Schengen has been widely expected since the election last November of Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German, as President of Romania.
Schengen is a village at the border between Luxembourg, France and Germany, where an agreement was signed in 1985 to gradually abolish checks at common borders between those countries, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Gradually, the process was taken further. In 1995, border controls were abolished between Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
Today, the Schengen border-free area consists of 26 member states: 22 EU countries (all except Bulgaria, Romania, Ireland, the UK and Cyprus) as well as three associated countries: Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Denmark has signed the Schengen agreement, but has kept its freedom not to apply certain measures.
The UK and Ireland decided to stay outside the Schengen area.