EU ministers must ‘welcome’ Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson gives a press conference on the EU-Russia travel agreement in Brussels, Belgium, 06 September 2022. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The European Commission has repeated its call for EU governments to admit Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia to the bloc’s Schengen area, which allows passport-free movement, at a vote in December. 

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday (16 November), EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johannsson said that following recent fact-finding missions by EU agencies, it was clear that “these three nations deserve to feel fully European”. 

“It is high time to say welcome […] they are ready to join,” the Commissioner added, unveiling a new report that states that all three countries have met the criteria for membership.

The Schengen area is one of the EU’s flagship policies and, of the remaining member states, only Cyprus and Ireland – both of which have complicated internal border situations – are not part of the area. 

In 2011, Bulgaria and Romania’s Schengen status was voted on by national ministers, but accession requires unanimous approval by member states and was blocked by the Dutch and Finnish governments, prompting a delay of over a decade.

Although Finland’s opposition appears to have lifted, last month the Dutch parliament passed a resolution urging Prime Minister Mark Rutte to block approval citing concerns related to organised crime and corruption. 

Accession for Bulgaria and Romania would pose “a risk to the security of the Netherlands and the entire Schengen Area,” said Dutch lawmakers. 

The Czech presidency plans to put the matter on the agenda of the next home affairs ministers – likely to be the last under its six-month presidency – for a decision on 8 December. Ministers are expected to take two votes, one for Croatia and another for Bulgaria and Romania.  

“The wait has been long, I should say, too long. Expectations are high, rightly so, from authorities but not at least citizens,” said Commissioner Johannsson. 

Last month, the European Parliament backed a resolution by a 534 to 53 margin in favour of Croatian accession, while MEPs also repeated their own calls for Bulgaria and Romania to join the bloc, describing the continued delay as ‘discriminatory’. 

The two countries invited a fact-finding mission last month to assess their legal frameworks and governance relating to borders, sharing of security information and efficient police cooperation, in an attempt to assuage any remaining questions from member states. 

Bulgaria and Romania have “strongly proven” that they have met EU requirements on border control, said Johannsson, who added that there was an ongoing EU mission assessing the visa-issuing process and data protection in the two countries. 

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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