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.
Speaking to the press on 24 June, Romanian President Traian Basescu said: "Under the three new articles we have agreed to strengthen Schengen. This involves the involvement of all the states and is not targeted at specific countries alone, and this is important."
Basescu insisted that the new rules would not make it more difficult for his country to join Schengen. "Romania's position has been of participating and supporting these new proposals for strengthening Schengen from the perspective of a country inside the area, not outside it. In this sense we invoked the Justice and Home Affairs Council last week which agreed that we have fulfilled the criteria for entry and we decided that the new elements to strengthen the rules are not applicable to Romania and Bulgaria, which have already satisfied the Schengen entry criteria."
Basescu also gave some insights into the drafting process of the EU's new border rules: "The Netherlands initiated Articles 20 and 21 and France initiated Article 22 in the Council conclusions. Our talks referred mainly to the fact that we can accept Articles 20, 21 and 22 if they will focus on countries that will ask for accession to Schengen in the future, and not Romania and Bulgaria, because we have already completed the Schengen evaluation."
"Since we made it clear that Romania and Bulgaria will not be targeted by these assessments, and there was a minute to this effect – albeit not a public minute – clarifying that this does not apply to Romania and Bulgaria, I wanted to make sure that there would be no political influences arising from these articles. The articles provide for the European Commission to come up with proposals for strengthening the criteria of the Schengen area in September, and they will have to be approved again by the Council then," he said.
Speaking to the press, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also insisted that the new Schengen rules would not make it more difficult for his country to join the Union's border-free area.
Seeminglly contradicting the Dutch prime minister, however, he stressed that all EU leaders had agreed that Bulgaria and Romania had met all technical criteria for joining Schengen.
Borisov added that he expected the September Justice and Home Affairs Council to come up with a date for his country's Schengen accession.
An EU diplomat said: "Romania and Bulgaria were both looking for some form of political assurance that that their accession to the Schengen area was guaranteed. They did not quite achieve that. Concerns remain – notably with the Dutch and the French – about the security of the Romanian and Bulgarian borders."
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption and, in the case of Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime.
A 'Cooperation and Verification' monitoring mechanism was set up to assist both countries in adapting to EU standards, starting from the date of their accession. In September 2010, European affairs ministers decided to extend Brussels' monitoring of Romania and Bulgaria.
Sofia and Bucharest had set March 2011 as the deadline to join Schengen but their accession was delayed.
Recent troubles with the Roma people in Western European countries, particularly France, have fuelled scepticism regarding Romania and Bulgaria's Schengen accession.
One of the reasons appears to be the fact that large Roma communities currently live in these two countries. Another fear appears to be related to the possible transit trough Bulgaria of illegal immigrants from third countries, arriving across the Greek border or crossing the Turkish border illegally.
The Hungarian EU presidency backs the early accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently deplored the "lack of political will" to achieve this objective.
EU official documents
- European Council:EU summit conclusions
- Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria:????????: ????????? ? ?????? ?? ?????????? ?? ??????????? ?? ???????? ? ???????
- EURACTIV Czech Republic:Schengen se m?nit bude, rozhodl summit EU
- EURACTIV Romania:MCV-ul impus Romaniei si Bulgariei inspira noile norme Schengen
- EURACTIV Slovakia:Pravidlá Schengenu sa budú meni?