The European Commission (EC) called on November 16 on EU leaders, due to meet in December, to take the necessary decisions “without any further delay” to allow Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to fully participate in the Schengen area.
In a Communication adopted on November 16, the Commission took stock of the three EU countries’ “strong record” of achievements in the application of the Schengen rules, the EC said.
“For years, these member states have significantly contributed to the well-functioning of the Schengen area, including during the time of the pandemic and more recently when faced with the unprecedented consequences of the war in Ukraine,” the EC said.
“While the three countries are already bound in part by the Schengen rules, the internal border controls with these member states have not been lifted and therefore they do not enjoy the full benefits that come with being part of the Schengen area without internal border controls.”
Becoming fully part of the Schengen area is a requirement for these EU countries and they should therefore be permitted to do so given that they fulfil the conditions, the EC said.
An enlarged Schengen area without internal border controls will make Europe safer – through reinforced protection of our common external borders and effective police cooperation – more prosperous – by eliminating time lost at borders and facilitating people and business contacts – and more attractive – by significantly expanding the world’s largest common area without internal border controls, the Commission said.
The EC said that Bulgaria had put in place a strong border management with efficient border surveillance and systematic border checks.
“The fight against cross-border crime is prioritised through international police cooperation, including with Europol. The Schengen Information System is well-established,” the Commission said.
“Bulgaria also demonstrated that it has the necessary structures in place to ensure respect for fundamental rights, guaranteeing access to international protection, respecting the principle of non-refoulement,” it said.
Romania has high-quality and strong border management, including border surveillance and systematic border checks, and international police cooperation, the EC said.
The fight against irregular migration and trafficking in human beings are two priorities where Romania is active. The Schengen Information System is well established.
Concerning the respect for fundamental rights, Romania has effective structures in place to guarantee access to international protection respecting the principle of non-refoulement, the EC said.
Bulgaria and Romania successfully completed the Schengen evaluation process in 2011.
The EC said that the Council had recognised the completion of the evaluation process in two separate Council Conclusions, but no Council decision on the lifting of internal borders has been taken for more than 11 years.
Given the time passed since 2011, as well as with a view to strengthen mutual trust and in acknowledgement of the development of the Schengen rules since 2011, Bulgaria and Romania issued a Joint Declaration in the Council in March 2022.
Bulgaria and Romania invited a team of experts on a voluntary basis under the coordination of the Commission to look into the application of the latest developments of the Schengen rules.
This voluntary fact-finding mission, which took place in October 2022, confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania have not only continued implementing the new rules and tools, but that they have also substantially reinforced the overall application of the Schengen architecture in all its dimensions.
“Moreover, these two countries proved to have a model track record of implementation of the Schengen rules,” the EC said.
In December 2021, the Council confirmed that Croatia had fulfilled the conditions required to join the Schengen area without internal border controls.
The evaluation process took place from 2016 to 2020. It included a successful targeted verification visit in 2020 to verify the implementation of actions in external border management.
Croatia has made considerable efforts to ensure that controls of external borders comply with fundamental rights obligations.
In particular, Croatia set up an Independent Monitoring Mechanism in June 2021, which provides for independent human rights monitoring of border-related operations involving migrants and asylum-seekers.
The Mechanism directly involves Croatian stakeholders and is guided by an independent Advisory Board. Croatia was the first Member State to put in place such a mechanism.
A new agreement extending and reinforcing the Independent Monitoring Mechanism was signed on November 4 2022. This new agreement fully reflects all the recommendations issued by the Advisory Board on October 27 2022.
Under the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU, on December 8 the Justice and Home Affairs Council will vote on the full participation of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to the Schengen area without internal border controls.
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