Bulgarian government officials and political leaders have been irked by reported comments by Wopke Hoekstra, that it is “still to early” for Bulgaria to join Europe’s Schengen visa zone.
Hoekstra’s comments, reported on December 2, came ahead of a meeting of European Justice and Home Affairs ministers on December 8 and 9.
The first item on the agenda of the meeting is “ministers will discuss the full application of the Schengen acquis in Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania and will aim to adopt decisions on this matter”.
Hoekstra was quoted as saying that the Netherlands could reconsider its reluctance to allow Bulgaria to be admitted to Schengen when it becomes clear that there is effective rule of law in Bulgaria, capable of dealing with corruption and organised crime.
The Dutch opposition runs counter to the backing from the European Commission, European Parliament and the majority of EU countries for Schengen admission for Bulgaria, which has been repeatedly denied it for more than a decade.
On November 16, the European Commission said that Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia were “fully ready” to join Schengen.
Responding to Hoekstra’s reported comments, Bulgaria’s caretaker Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev said that Bulgaria’s efforts to protect the EU’s external border “do not deserve neglect and insults”.
Demerdzhiev said that every day, Bulgarian security forces protected EU citizens, including the Dutch, amid migration pressure quadruple that of last year at the EU border.
“In return, instead of European solidarity, we receive neglect and discrimination,” he said.
Caretaker Justice Minister Krum Zarkov said that the Netherlands was acting “unreasonably from a technical, legal and political point of view”.
Zarkov, who has been among members of the administration lately seeking to lobby the Dutch to remove their objection to Bulgaria joining Schengen, expressed bewilderment at the stance.
President Roumen Rade said that “instead of European solidarity, Bulgaria gets cynicism”.
Former prime minister Kiril Petkov, co-leader of the We Continue the Change party, said that he had spoken to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte a week ago, to insist that the steps taken by Bulgaria and the commitments made regarding the rule of law be taken account of.
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