photo. romaniatv.net Fifteen years have passed since Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, but only in 2022 can these two post-communist countries become Schengen members, and thus gain access to the free movement of goods and people. The final decision on this matter will be taken at the meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers, which is scheduled for 9 and 10 December in Brussels. Experts emphasize that the verdict in this case will affect not only the future of Romania and Bulgaria, but also of the entire EU. Countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria continue to doubt Romania’s and Bulgaria’s ability to control the EU’s external borders and fight intra-Community crime. For this reason, they consider using a veto.
Romania wants to join Schengen
The rejection of the candidacies of Bucharest and Sofia – for which a veto of one country would be enough – threatens to alienate the two member states. In Romania (the EU’s second largest former communist country after Poland in terms of population and area), several leaders of the grand coalition that has been ruling the country for a year insinuated that a negative decision could affect further cooperation with the Community on strategic matters for the entire bloc. “Delaying or rejecting our candidacy for Schengen could trigger dangerous anti-EU currents,” Rares Bogdan, an MEP from the Romanian Prime Minister’s Party (EPP), said in early October. A few days ago, the same politician commented on the potential rejection of Romania’s candidacy for the Schengen area as follows: “What must we do to be treated equally and respected? To cause a food crisis at European level, to block hundreds of grain trucks at the border that pass through Romania every day to Western markets? Don’t make us play hard (…). Don’t send Romanian voters to populists and eurosceptics.” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis denied the possibility of a boycott mentioned by Bogdan, but he did not condemn the words of the MEP and justified them with an excess of emotions. “I think he got carried away,” he said. Recently, MP Pavel Popescu, a colleague from the ranks of Rares Bogdan, was very critical of the position of several European countries, posting on his Facebook page in which he pledged to devote the remaining two years of his term of office to promoting laws that “directly target Austrian and Dutch companies and their interests in Romania” as retaliation for a hypothetical veto of these countries. Popescu also accused Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of trying to widen the Schengen coalition, which is skeptical of Romania. Bogdan and Popescu were not the only or the highest-ranking Romanian politicians who linked the European decision on Schengen with Romanian aid to Ukraine. In late October, just after the Dutch parliament asked the government in The Hague to veto Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to Schengen because of the lack of progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime, the leader of the Romanian Social Democratic Party, Marcela Ciolacu, recalled the importance of her country in unloading grain from neighboring Ukraine and warned: “This possible injustice would take us in a direction we don’t want.”
Reasons for concern
Although both the European Parliament and the Commission have made it clear on numerous occasions that Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia (another EU country aspiring to join the Schengen area) meet all the technical requirements to be admitted and must be admitted to the club as soon as possible , some European governments still have reservations about the usefulness of expanding space for the free movement of goods and people. One of them is the Netherlands, whose parliament recently passed a resolution proposed by MP Rutte calling on the government to close the Schengen gates for Romania and Bulgaria due to their “persistent problems with corruption and organized crime”. The initiative of the Dutch parliament was joined in November by Sweden, which is considering using a veto to exclude Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia from Schengen. The latest negative signal for Bucharest and Sofia came from Austria, whose interior minister, Gerhard Karner, made his opposition to the enlargement of the Schengen area clear last Friday: “The system is dysfunctional. The situation in Europe has clearly shown that the protection of the external borders has failed.” “If the system fails, it should not be expanded,” the minister added. Austria’s position concerns illegal immigration. According to data from the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, the authorities of this country have already intercepted more than 90,000 illegal immigrants this year. Through the Romanian border with Serbia, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq are trying to get to Romania to set foot in the EU and continue their journey to Austria or Germany, crossing the border with Hungary in trailers or truck chassis. Should Romania be admitted to the Schengen area, the Romanian-Hungarian border would disappear, removing an additional filter for those who want to enter prosperous Europe without the required documents. Another concern for those who fear the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the area of free movement is human trafficking. Romania is the main country of the white slave trade. Bulgaria also stands out with negative statistics here. Regardless of whether they deal with robbery and begging or sexual crimes, mafias established in Romania and Bulgaria, thanks to the enlargement of the Schengen area, could freely transfer their victims to most European countries, avoiding border controls. A third cause of concern is alleged deficiencies in import controls and suspected corruption against some Romanian and Bulgarian border guards and customs officers. If Romania and Bulgaria join the Schengen area, illegal or smuggled products entering both countries will be able to be exported to most European countries without additional checks. The technical report in which the European Commission justified its support for the immediate entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area stated that “Romania guarantees high-quality border surveillance and controls”. Meanwhile, the Dutch media are of the opinion that the assessments presented by the authors of the report did not take into account the Romanian port of Constanta, which is the main gateway for goods transported to Europe via the Black Sea. Romanian border crossings with Ukraine and Moldova, through which most of the smuggling of cigarettes and other products into the EU takes place, are also not included. This omission seems to indicate that the Commission’s support for Romania and Bulgaria’s immediate membership is politically motivated, which could be aimed at avoiding a new outbreak of Euroscepticism in the East. Be that as it may, conspiracy theories abound in Romanian public opinion. One of them assumes that behind the Dutch opposition is the desire to keep the Romanian port of Constanta on the periphery of Europe – so that it cannot take profits from the port of Rotterdam.
Lifebuoy for the Romanian political class
In addition to the benefits that joining the Schengen area would bring to both Romanian citizens and Romanian carriers by saving thousands of hours of border and customs checks each year, joining the European area of free movement is essential for the Romanian ruling class. After years of scuffles on the Romanian political scene and failed attempts to build a new parliamentary majority, the electorate from which President Iohannis comes is severely disappointed and demobilized. The expected entry into the Schengen area is the only political achievement on the horizon for President Iohannis, who appears to be in jeopardy with almost three years left in office.