France produced new arguments yesterday (8 December) to support its position that Romania and Bulgaria are not ready to the join Europe's visa-free Schengen travel zone, citing poor border and immigration controls.
European Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez told parliament that France will refuse to get involved in "weakening our borders and the capacity of Europe to manage and control its flow of migrants," news agency AFP reported.
"What France says is very simple – that it is well understood that Romania and Bulgaria do not have a closed door," he said.
Romania currently does not recognise its border with Moldova, allowing migrants to flow across the frontier.
Moldova and Romania signed a border treaty last month, a move which was welcomed by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Unfortunately, days later, Mihai Ghimpu, acting president of Moldova, described the treaty as 'illegal and unconstitutional'.
Ghimpu said he would challenge the treaty in the Constitutional Court, if and when it is ratified by Moldova's parliament. As Moldova is in the process of forming a new government, it is difficult to forecast the future legal status of the signed document.
"We have to be sure of our borders," Wauquiez was quoted as saying, adding that the Romania-Moldova border dispute currently represents an obstacle to Romania and Bulgaria entering the Schengen zone.
But the French minister also alluded to the fact that Sofia and Bucharest were not capable of securing their borders in the wider sense. "If we trust them with our borders, it is justifiable that we could expect all guarantees that the borders are well-guarded with enough customs officers to exercise all the vigilance that we have a right to expect," he said.
"Today that is not the case," Wauquiez went on. "At the moment, the work is not satisfactory," he said, citing problems with corruption.
Greece the real problem?
Accession to the EU border-free area has been one of the highest priorities both in Sofia and Bucharest. In Bulgaria, the country's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov deliberately choose not to criticise Paris for its expulsions of Bulgarian Roma, hoping that in exchange, France would not veto his country's Schengen bid.
However, EU experts told EURACTIV that separate accession for Bulgaria was "out of the question".
For now, Greece is territorially separated from the rest of the Schengen area, and with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, travelers from Greece could reach the rest of the Union without any border controls. This in fact may be the French minister's real concern, an EU diplomat said.
Indeed, Greece's porous borders with Turkey could also become an obstacle for EU newcomers Bulgaria and Romania, who have set themselves the objective of joining the Schengen border-free area in 2011.
A crossing favoured by illegal immigrants at Nea Vyssa–Orestiada is only a few kilometres from the Greece-Bulgaria border.
For the time being, Bulgaria's borders are well-guarded and according to the Bulgarian press, no immigration spill-over has been taking place in Bulgaria.
But when Bulgaria and Romania join Schengen, the Greece-Bulgaria border may no longer be guarded and the situation could change, experts warned.