Bulgaria has been forced to remove the tax imposed on the transit of Russian gas to Hungary and Serbia, as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has threatened to veto Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen visa zone, Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov told reporters in Brussels, Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported on December 14.
We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria co-leader Kiril Petkov announced on December 11 that the groups supporting the government – WCC-DB, GERB-UDF and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – had agreed that the fee would be shelved.
Asked about Bulgaria’s strategy to seek admission to the Schengen zone, Denkov, arriving for a scheduled meeting of the European Council, said that his country would negotiate about land borders.
“We have already prepared proposals. I saw them this morning, we will send them to Austria,” he said, referring to one of the two countries – the other being the Netherlands – that have been opposed to Bulgaria entering Schengen.
Denkov said that Bulgaria also would use the European Commission as a mediator in these negotiations.
Asked whether Bulgaria was forced to back down from the introduction of the transit fee for Russian gas to Hungary, he said: “What we do not want is to remain hostage to decisions that have nothing to do with the common logic of development of the European Union, so what we are trying to avoid is the need to enter again into a European Council decision that requires unanimity.
“Hungary has sent an official, albeit low-level, message that if the fee is not removed, they will veto [Bulgarian entering] Schengen. So we decided that there was no need to risk at this time with, how should I say, important, but still are still not decisive steps regarding Schengen”.
Denkov said that there was no talk about the separation of Bulgaria from Romania in regard to admission to Schengen.
He described Austria’s request to strengthen the land border between the two neighbouring countries as Austria’s attempt “to reassure its citizens that all measures are being taken, that it will be much more difficult to reach Austria through Bulgaria.”
Some days ago, there were reports that Austria was prepared to see Bulgaria and Romania admitted only in respect of airports, without being officially members of the Schengen zone.
At the same time, Austria reportedly set a number of conditions, including the acceptance of migrants and the strengthening of Frontex’s presence in the two countries.
This proposal was well received by Romania but rejected by Denkov.
BNR reported on December 14 Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte as saying that his country would decide “at some point in the coming days” whether to lift its veto on Bulgaria’s accession to Schengen.
“We have to make a decision in the Netherlands based on the reports of the European Commission,” he said, quoted by BNR.
According to BNR, this decision could be taken as early as Friday, but could also be taken next week. December 15 and 22 are the last two meetings of the Dutch government before Christmas.
(Photo of Denkov arriving at the European Council meeting in Brussels on December 14: government.bg)
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