EU heads of state and government adopted a political decision to reform the Schengen passport-free travel area at the conclusion of a two-day summit in Brussels today (24 June). The new rules were compared by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the tough scrutiny imposed on Romania and Bulgaria after their EU accession.
Leaders attending the EU summit decided to step up "political guidance" on how the Schengen area is managed, stipulating that this should be done in accordance with "common standards and fundamental principles and norms".
In order to respond to future challenges, "an effective and reliable monitoring and evaluation system is necessary to ensure that this is the case," according to the summit's conclusions (paragraphs 20-22).
Country-specific evaluations would be performed by groups made up of national experts from EU member states, European Commission officials and competent agencies, the document reads.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte likened the monitoring scheme to that imposed on Bulgaria and Romania when they joined the European Union in 2007. That scheme is called the 'Cooperation and Verification Mechanism' or CVM (see 'Background').
"In the future, all countries will be evaluated against the new system," Rutte said, adding that this was "the good news". "In the future you don't need to go to CVM-type procedures, while on Bulgaria and Romania we have an existing type of procedure, which we will orderly follow," he said.
The Dutch prime minister said he was aware of the fact that Bulgaria and Romania were "a little bit afraid" that there would be a connection between the decisions made today and their accession to the Schengen area.
EU home affairs ministers decided on 9 June to postpone the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to Schengen, despite opposite calls from the European Parliament, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of the two countries joining the EU's passport-free zone.
"[The summit decision] is totally unrelated, and I told them: trust me, we are not putting extra measures on Schengen to make it more difficult for you to enter Schengen. There is a CVM system, in July there will be a report, and in September the accession issue will be again on the agenda of the Justice and Home Affairs Council," said Rutte, referring to the ninth CVM report, due next month, on the progress made by Romania and Bulgaria under the monitoring mechanism.
But Rutte made it clear that his country doesn't think that the two newcomers have met the Schengen accession criteria yet. He also made clear that despite the position of the European Parliament, his country considers the CVM and Schengen accession to be directly linked.
"I know that they claim to be ready. We don't think so. We will first wait for the results of the CVM report in July," he repeated.
"We've always taken the position that the CVM and Schengen accession are related issues, because we need to make sure that border controls are reliable – that they are not conducive to bribes and corruption – and whether the judiciary is working," the Dutch prime minister said.