Romania could lose interest in joining the Schengen visa-free travel area if its accession is again blocked at the forthcoming justice and home affairs council of the European Union, Romanian government officials said at the weekend.
While that did not mean that Romania would abandon its plans to join the Schengen zone, authorities in Bucharest would focus on other European endeavours, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said on March 3 2013.
Foreign minister Titus Corlatean was the first to make the comment on air during an interview with local broadcaster Realitatea TV on March 1, saying that a decision to veto Romania’s accession would remove any shred of credibility for the process.
“If whatever we do, no matter how much we meet the criteria, no matter how much money we pour into it, nothing is enough, then allow me to say that we will not be interested further. We can stay out of Schengen as we have until now. When they decide to invite us, very well,” Corlatean said.
During the same televised interview, Corlatean said that Germany was the main opponent to Romania (and Bulgaria) joining the Schengen area, linking the issue of Schengen accession – and the fears of an influx of immigrants from the two countries – to parliamentary elections in Germany, scheduled for autumn.
Corlatean’s statement drew a sharp rebuke from president Traian Basescu, who has had, at best, an uneasy relationship with the ruling centre-left cabinet, asking the foreign minister to “avoid statements of this kind so as not to create a false perception among European Union member states concerning Romania’s European agenda” and instead to focus on all meeting all “direct and indirect requirements” of the process.
Basescu also said in his statement, on March 2, that he disassociated himself from Corlatean’s position and that “Romania maintains its full interest in joining the Schengen area as soon as possible.”
Ponta joined in the escalating war of words on the issue, saying that Corlatean was not presenting his personal point of view – as Basescu had said – but the position of the Romanian government.
On March 3, an official confirmation that Germany would oppose Romania and Bulgaria joining the Schengen area came from German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who told Spiegel magazine in an interview that the governments in the two countries “have to be more decisive in the fight against corruption.”
“Should Romania and Bulgaria insist that the vote be held, the attempt will be blocked by Germany’s veto. The concept of freeing up certain areas, such as arrivals by air or via seaports, is likewise unacceptable,” Friedrich said.
Commenting on Friedrich’s interview, Ponta said that any speculation that the German interior minister was reacting to Corlatean’s statement was laughable. The government in Bucharest knew of Germany’s intentions in advance, Ponta said on March 3.
However, he clarified that Romania was not abandoning its intention to join the Schengen area, merely that it would pay more attention to its other European priorities.
On March 4, he said that Romania was not interested in triggering the German veto. “Our intention is to once again present our technical readiness at the justice and home affairs council. If we could get a clear point of view from Germany concerning what needs to be done in the future, that would be good,” Ponta said.
Romania and Bulgaria have met all technical criteria for Schengen accession in 2011, but have been prevented from joining by continued monitoring under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which tracks the success of efforts towards judiciary reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime.
Although no formal link between the CVM reports and Schengen accession exists – a fact repeatedly pointed out by officials in Sofia and Bucharest – several other EU member states remain opposed to allowing the two countries into Schengen until they show sufficient progress in CVM reports.
(Romania was subject to an interim report in January, stemming from its political crisis last summer, which brought about fears in the EU that the rule of law in the country was weakening. The next CVM reports are due at the end of 2013, but the European Commission has repeatedly said that the date could be brought forward if circumstances warrant it).
The meeting of the justice and home affairs council of the EU is scheduled for March 7-8. Even before the terse exchange in Bucharest at the weekend, the prospect that the council would allow Romania and Bulgaria into Schengen appeared slim because of the political crisis in Sofia, brought about by the resignation of the Bulgarian government in February 2013.
(Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta, left, and president Traian Basescu. Photo: presidency.ro)