Manfred Weber: Bulgaria and Croatia should join Schengen ‘immediately’

Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber (L) applauds after the speech of Jean-Claude Juncker (not pictured), President of the European Commission at the annual State of The European Union speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 12 September 2018. [Patrick Seeger/EPA/EFE]

Bulgaria and Croatia should join the EU’s passport-free Schengen area immediately, EPP group leader Manfred Weber said on Wednesday (12 September), in a friendly gesture to two Eastern European governments from his political family.

For political reasons, he omitted to mention Romania, which joined the EU together with Bulgaria in 2007 and is considered fit to join by the European Commission.

Weber made his statement in the European Parliament, reacting to Commission President’s Jean-Claude Juncker State of the Union speech. In his speech to MEPs last year, Juncker said Bulgaria and Romania should join Schengen immediately.

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Pro-European EU members Bulgaria and Romania were overwhelmed with attention in Commission President’s Jean-Claude Juncker State of the Union speech today (13 September). In contrast, Poland, l‘enfant terrible of the EU, was not mentioned a single time.

Both Bulgaria and Romania have been considered ready by the Commission to join the Schengen area since 2010. However, as admission requires unanimity, they have been blocked by member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, mainly due to electoral concerns in the older EU members.

Last year, Juncker said: “If we want to strengthen the protection of our external borders, we need to open the Schengen area of free movement to Bulgaria and Romania immediately. We should also allow Croatia to become a full Schengen member once it meets all the criteria”.

Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, is progressing toward Schengen accession but has not yet received the Commission’s green light. Croatia also cannot join Schengen because it is blocked by Slovenia over a border delimitation dispute in the Adriatic bay of Piran.

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Slovenia on Monday (4 September) warned fellow EU member Croatia that failure to implement the Piran ruling will amount to a breach of the EU’s rule of law.

Both Bulgaria and Croatia are led by EPP-affiliated prime ministers, which is why Weber took the liberty to annoy Romania, led by a social-democrat premier, by omitting to mention its name.

Romania is under increased pressure by EU institutions for the government’s attempts to escape judicial proceedings for top officials, including the ruling party strongman Liviu Dragnea. It is difficult to imagine that the rest of the EU would make any inviting gestures to Bucharest in such circumstances.

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But both Juncker and Weber know that there is no chance for any Schengen enlargement soon and, furthermore, that the whole Schengen project is currently in doubt, as Juncker mentioned in his speech.

The Commission President said that if member states want to maintain the Schengen area without internal borders, solidarity in sharing the migrant burden is needed. Several member states, including Germany and Austria, have reinstated border controls since the migration crisis in 2015.

Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia do not dispute the principle of solidarity but have taken relatively few migrants under the Commission’s relocation scheme. Poland and Hungary, both already in the Schengen, haven’t taken a single migrant and refuse to do so in the future.

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