During a visit to Sofia yesterday (23 September), Romanian President Traian Basescu found an ally in the shape of his Bulgarian colleague, Georgi Parvanov, as both called for the speedy joint accession of the two countries to the Schengen area. Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria, reports.
Speaking alongside his guest, Parvanov said that two bilateral official documents, one from 2008 and the other from 2010, commit the neighbouring countries to joint efforts to meet the criteria for accession to the European border-free area.
Dnevnik recalls that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has insisted that each country must join according to its merits. As previously reported, Borissov did not criticise the Roma expulsions by France in the hope that Paris would not raise obstacles to the country's Schengen accession in early 2011.
Parvanov, who is a former socialist leader, openly disapproved of the policy of centre-right Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who said France was within its rights in conducting the expulsions.
Both Bulgaria and Romania hope to join Schengen in March 2011 (see 'Schengen celebrates, prepares for enlargement').
Parvanov and Basescu categorically rejected any suggestions that their countries' accession to Schengen be linked to any other issues.
"Our greatest priority is joining Schengen in March 2011 […] We are categorically against linking this issue to other issues, such as the Romas,” Basescu said.
For his part, Parvanov also insisted that sanctions and expulsions on the basis of ethnicity are "unacceptable".
However, the real issue is that Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen entry could be delayed, not over the Roma, but over deficiencies in their law-enforcement systems. The new position of France and Germany appears to be that countries still subject to Commission monitoring under the CVM mechanism (see 'Background') cannot join Schengen.
"It is not only the view of France. I think the implicit link made by all governments is that from the moment when the conditions required by the control mechanism are not fully met, a number of things are not feasible, including [the two countries] controlling the EU's external borders. Nobody opposed this view," French State Secretary for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche said on 13 September in Brussels.
In judicial terms, there is no direct link between EU monitoring of the bloc's two newcomers and Schengen. However, as the decision to enlarge Schengen is taken by EU member states, a link could be made, diplomats admit. Also, according to experts, it is more practical and cheaper for Bulgaria and Romania to join Schengen together.
In addition, Basescu called for a European strategy to integrate what he called "nomadic Roma".
A lot of politicians claim that there are around 12-14 million Roma, Basescu said. He argued that the EU did not need to integrate all of them, as a significant proportion of them are sedentary. Only the nomadic Roma need a specific solution, he said.
"We need to create for them conditions for seasonal work, to create conditions so that children of the Roma who have deployed their bivouacs on the outskirts of Sofia, Bucharest or Paris are able to study," said Basescu, quoted by Focus agency.
"I, for instance, would like to assure you that Romania will send teachers to those Roma bivouacs," he stated.