bne IntelliNews -
Romania seems to have abandoned its immediate plans to join the Schengen zone, after asking for the issue to be removed from the agenda of an upcoming session of the European Council for Justice and Home Affairs (JHA), scheduled for October 8. According to other reports, France was the country that asked for the topic not to be introduced onto the agenda of the meeting this week.
The Bulgarian government has repeatedly expressed its hope that the topic would be put to the vote on October 8 or 9, but for both countries the topic seems to have been taken off the table for now, with discussions to focus instead on the refugee crisis.
While Romania and Bulgaria still hope to join the Schengen zone – and the topic could be discussed in December this year – Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta admitted that it was clear that the support was not there at the moment, saying that it "was clear that the decision will not be a favourable one", with some member countries still opposing the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the border-free area.
Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 and had hoped to join the Schengen area back in 2010. However, concerns persisted over corruption and the security of their borders. Joining the Schengen zone requires the unanimous support of all 25 of its current members, something not likely in the near future.
In September it appeared that the two countries would tie the adoption of mandatory migrant quotas to their admission into the border-free area, with Ponta saying that: "The very countries that now require us to be united in dealing with refugees are countries that have kept postponing Romania's entry into Schengen." However, this idea seems to have disappeared for now.
If Bulgaria and Romania’s Schengen entry is not discussed at this week’s meeting, they could have to wait until next autumn to get an entry date, which would be in 2017 at the earliest, according to Bulgarian media reports.
On October 5, Meglena Kuneva, Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Policies Coordination and Institutional Affairs, told reporters that Bulgaria had fulfilled all technical conditions to join the Schengen zone, but that its entry depended on the opinion of the members’ interior ministers.
According to Kuneva, before the start of the refugee crisis most Schengen members were in favour of granting Bulgaria and Romania at least partial membership via air borders, but it seems that things have now changed.
“At a time when some build walls, the atmosphere is not good for Schengen negotiations,” Kuneva said, stressing that public opinion is an important part of the negotiations.
Kuneva revealed that Germany firmly opposes giving entry dates to Bulgaria and Romania at the coming meeting. However, it is not clear whether the reason is the refugee crisis or the lack of progress in fighting corruption in Bulgaria, for instance, which has been the key reason for the country’s previous membership rejections. Countries including the Netherlands, France and Scandinavian countries have changed their stance and no longer oppose Bulgaria’s entry into the border-free area.
Kuneva has also said that she would ask Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to demand a firm commitment that Bulgaria will get a Schengen entry date in the second half of 2016 when he attends the European Council meeting on October 15.
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