Current tensions over the repatriation of hundreds of Roma from France to Romania should have no repercussions for Bucharest and Sofia's ambitions to join Schengen, the border-free European area, a European Commission spokesperson said yesterday (23 August.)
Romania and Bulgaria plan to enter the Schengen area in March 2011. However, French State Secretary Pierre Lellouche hinted at the possible postponement of this decision if Bucharest fails to better integrate their Roma community, the French and the Romanian press reported.
Romanian daily Romania Libera carried the headline 'Romania to stay out of Schengen due to Roma'. Lellouche is quoted as saying that Romania cannot be allowed to join the border-less EU area if it benefits from 20 billion euros from the EU budget for the period 2007-2013, but does nothing for the social inclusion of Roma.
"There are two-and-a-half million Roma in Romania and it is Romania's responsibility to integrate them. It's not France that should integrate Romanian Roma," Lellouche reportedly said. Officially there are 535,000 Roma in Romania.
Realitatea TV quotes Lellouche as saying that he has twice been to Romania, where the prime minister had assured him that he would appoint a state secretary responsible for the integration of the country's Roma minority, hinting that the promise had not been kept.
But Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc said Romania in fact had such a state secretary – responsible for Roma integration – in the Ministry of Labour, namely Valentin Mocanu. It was also announced that Mocanu will visit Paris on 25-26 August and meet French officials.
Leonard Orban, the former Romanian EU commissioner, now counsellor to his country's President Traian Basescu, described Lellouche's statements as "worrying" and admitted that his country's relations with France had become "tense" (EURACTIV 23/08/10).
Asked by EURACTIV whether the EU executive was comfortable with France's threats not to give the green light to the EU members' accession to Schengen due to the Roma stand-off, a Commission spokesperson said the two issues were unrelated.
There is nothing in the Schengen agreement regarding Roma integration, said Matthew Newman, spokesperson for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner Viviane Reding.
"The integration of minorities is not part of the Schengen acquis, evaluated in the context of lifting internal border controls, issuing visas, police cooperation, readiness to connect and use the Schengen Information System and data protection," Newman said.
Indeed, the obligations that Bulgaria and Romania have to undertake to join the Schengen border-less area, as in previous accessions, concern the reliability of land and air borders, and data protection related to the use of a common passenger database known as the Schengen Information System, or SIS.
Bulgaria remained remarkably silent over the Roma expulsions when the first group of 13 Bulgarian Roma arrived in Sofia late on Friday. It should also be noted that France did not mention postponing Bulgaria's accession to Schengen.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who in a former government was chief secretary of the Interior Ministry and holds the rank of police general, is known to attach the utmost importancey to his country joining Schengen in early 2011.
Last June, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Schengen Agreement, which provides for the gradual abolition of frontier checks at common borders between EU countries, the European Parliament voted to allow Sofia and Bucharest to join SIS (EURACTIV 14/06/10).
Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement, creating tensions, particularly in Italy (EURACTIV 30/06/09).
An estimated 15,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria live in France. The French government is currently expelling large numbers of them in groups (EURACTIV 19/08/10).