EU countries were studying on Thursday whether the group’s three new members – Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia – could fully open their borders and participate in the EU’s passport-free travel area, although further There was a possibility of delay.
A green light would boost their economies. The so-called Schengen zone is the largest travel area in the world without identity checks. It consists of 26 countries—22 EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. About 1.7 million people live in one Schengen zone country and work in another. About 3.5 million cross the internal border daily.
But full accession for new EU members – Bulgaria and Romania joined the bloc in 2007 and Croatia in 2013 – requires unanimous support from its allies, and the eve of interior ministers meeting in Brussels to discuss objections Still under consideration. filed.
All three countries already follow a portion of Schengen rules, but border controls have not yet been removed. The opposition has focused on partner countries’ concerns about the extent of organized crime, irregular immigration and other security issues.
The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, determined that the three countries met the technical criteria to join and the European Parliament also voted in favor of their membership.
“Through Schengen expansion we are stronger, not weaker,” said Commission Vice-President Margaritis Scinhas when EU interior ministers met to discuss the issue. “Expanding Schengen means more and better control, not less.”
“I am confident that common sense and an open mind will prevail,” he said.
Croatia’s request has not met any significant opposition from its partners. But Austria seemed determined to veto Bulgaria and Romania’s requests due to immigration, as the number of people crossing its borders illegally through the Balkans soars.
Austrian officials fear that if internal borders were to be suspended, Bulgaria and Romania would become gateways for asylum seekers. Conservative lawmakers from the Sweden Democrats party have opposed the entry of the three countries for similar reasons.
Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said on Wednesday that his government had held “highest-level meetings” with Austria to try to address concerns, noting that data indicated “no worrying cases in Romania”. Migration is not a flow.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also sparked outrage this week when he alleged that Bulgarian border guards may be accepting cash bribes. The Dutch parliament also has to decide, so Bulgaria could join later than the other two candidates.
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev responded on Facebook that three Bulgarian border guards had been killed in recent months while guarding the bloc’s outer borders. “Instead of European solidarity, Bulgaria gets pessimism,” he said.
In an effort to respond to their partners’ concerns, Bulgaria and Romania have twice invited EU fact-finding missions in recent months to show reform.
Hungary also seemed set to refuse entry, as it has done in recent months on the need for unanimous votes on a number of EU issues, mainly over its conservative government’s objections that the European pandemic recovery fund has been exposed to corruption. About has been disqualified.
Hungary also appears prepared to delay its accession, as it has done with a number of EU issues that have required unanimous voting in recent months, mostly due to objections from right-wing governments that the European pandemic Its access to recovery funds is being blocked over corruption concerns. ,
McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.