Bulgaria and Romania may be a step closer on their long and winding road towards membership of the European Union’s Schengen visa zone after signals that the Netherlands is prepared to ease its opposition to them joining.
If the Dutch, who have been firmest in blocking the accession to Schengen of the two countries that joined the EU in 2007 but remain non-members of the visa zone, indeed remove their opposition, the go-ahead could be given at a meeting of EU interior ministers in March 2013.
The Netherlands has been adamant in linking the shortcomings of Bulgaria and Romania in meeting EU judiciary system and law enforcement standards, as measured in regular reports under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, to the two countries’ accession to Schengen.
On February 13 2013, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry quoted Dutch migration minister Fred Teeven as saying that, after talks with Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, he was convinced that Bulgaria was ready to join Schengen.
Tsvetanov was in the Netherlands for meetings with government officials.
Tsvetanov assured Teeven that Bulgaria met the conditions and standards for Schengen accession.
The Bulgarian minister said that there was perfect co-operation between Bulgarian and Turkish border authorities on non-admission of illegal migrants to EU territory.
Recent months have seen regular bulletins – more or less weekly – from Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry on the latest interceptions of people attempting to enter Bulgaria illegally. Most have been people from Syria and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry, Teeven said: “The Netherlands definitely considers Bulgaria a partner, which creates an impression of security and safety. Cooperation with Bulgaria is more than good. I had a really open and sincere conversation with representatives of the Bulgarian government and in the person of Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov I was convinced that Bulgaria is ready. Mr Tsvetanov radiates confidence that Bulgaria is ready and that it is time to join Schengen. From now on, the most important thing is for Bulgaria to hold consultations with the countries in Northwest Europe, because March 7 is drawing near and Bulgaria should take action,”.
In Bucharest, local media said that a meeting between the foreign ministers of Romania and the Netherlands in The Hague had produced the message that the Dutch government no longer made Romania’s accession to Schengen conditional on the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism reports.
Recently in Romania, the strategy towards Schengen has been a bone of contention between political rivals president Traian Basescu and prime minister Victor Ponta.
Ponta planned a letter-writing campaign to EU heads of state and government asking them to confirm their support for the country’s accession to Schengen, but Basescu declined to sign the letter. The president’s objection was interpreted by his rivals as endorsement of the linking of the Schengen and CVM issues, but he told a February 8 news conference that a simple request to join Schengen was “pointless” while, at the same time, he insisted that he did not link the two issues.
After the most recent European Council meeting, earlier in February, Basescu said that it had been decided that the Schengen issue would be discussed at the EU justice and home affairs council on March 13 to 15 2013. He hoped that a positive decision would be taken “provided we make no political blunders at home”.