Romanian President Traian Basescu lashed out at a decision by France and Germany yesterday (21 December) to postpone his country’s accession to the EU's border-free Schengen area, describing it as an act of "discrimination". The EURACTIV network reports from Bucharest and Sofia.
Speaking in the presidential palace in Bucharest, Basescu said his country would not accept discrimination from anyone, "be it from the most powerful countries of the EU".
Hours before, the interior ministers of France and Germany, Brice Hortefeux and Thomas de Maizière, had issued a joint letter saying they would block Romania and Bulgaria's Schengen bid.
According to the two ministers, not all conditions are met for the two countries to join the Schengen border-free area.
The two countries had initially planned to join the passport-free zone in March 2011.
"It would not be realistic nor responsible to neglect the deficiencies identified," says the letter, seen by EURACTIV Romania. Among the deficiencies, the ministers specify "the absence of a satisfactory juridical and administrative environment in the fields of security and justice, persisting corruption at different levels and worrying levels of organised crime".
Consequently, the ministers plead for a postponement of Romania and Bulgaria’s Schengen accession for a later date.
"We consider that the decision should be taken when the main causes of worries would be removed and when the two countries would begin irreversible progress in their fight against corruption, of organised crime, as well as of reforming their judicial systems," the letter reads.
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, they were placed under a special monitoring mechanism to assist them in reforming their juridical systems and combat corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime was highlighted as a particular problem. Since then regular reports have revealed only limited progress.
However, the European Commission admits that there is no legal link between the Bulgaria and Romania's progress under the mechanism and their accession to the Schengen area.
In his statement, Basescu said that Romania had met all technical requirements for joining Schengen and would not accept the introduction of "additional conditionalities".
A Polish diplomat told EURACTIV recently that his country was worried by attempts from older EU members to "change the rules" of the game and adopt "moving targets" that are difficult to be achieve for newcomers, citing Romania and Bulgaria's Schengen bid as a case in point.
The diplomat also expressed worried that the permanent safety net for the euro zone could to raise the bar higher for countries that wish to adopt the common currency.
Retribution for the Roma invasion?
The push by Paris can also be seen as an act of reprisal against the massive arrival of Romas to France. The expulsion of those migrants, who were mostly from Romania, has stirred unprecedented controversy and criticism from the European Commission.
French European Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez recently said that "Romania and Bulgaria do not have a closed door," but explained that those countries were simply unable to secure their own borders.
Bulgaria remains silent
As with the Roma controversy, Sofia chose to keep a low profile, after the French-German letter became public. Over the last months, 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.
The only official reaction so far comes from a spokesperson of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, who said Sofia would redouble efforts to reform its judiciary and convince doubters that it has made progress.
Meanwhile, the public uproar in Bulgarian and Romania appears to be massive. Hundreds of readers have commented under the article by Dnevnik, EURACTIV's sister publication in Bulgaria, which carried the news of their countries' rejected Schengen bid. Many comments see it as a setback for Bulgaria's Prime Minister, who had made Schengen accession his biggest EU priority.