Bulgaria and Romania should abolish border control if both countries are not accepted into the Schengen area by Christmas, Bulgarian MEP Andrey Novakov (EPP) said, as Austria, which has been blocking the two countries’ path toward the EU border-free zone, insists on its position.
In December, Austria and the Netherlands blocked Bulgaria’s entry into the visa-free travel area, while Romania was stopped only by Austria. This decision even sparked talks in diplomatic circles about a possible “de-coupling” of Romania from Bulgaria cases, which the Netherlands supports.
“For every day lost at the border, a truck loses €200 to its owner. Many of the drivers quit because they don’t want to hang at the borders,” Novakov told Nova TV on Wednesday.
“There are thousands of attempts daily to cross the border [illegally]. When corrupt police officers are caught, they should know they will lose their pension and all their privileges,” he added.
However, according to him, the obstacles to Bulgaria and Romania’s Schengen bids are no longer linked to the Dutch and Austrian vetoes.
“There are going to be elections, and somebody needs sexier messages like ‘we’re going to stop them so you can sleep peacefully.’ Peaceful sleep in Austria does not depend on whether we are in Schengen, on the contrary,” Novakov commented.
The prime ministers of Bulgaria and Romania, Nikolay Denkov and Ion-Marcel Ciolacu, met in Athens on Tuesday to discuss a common strategy for the admission of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area.
Denkov said that lifting border controls between Bulgaria and Greece and between Bulgaria and Romania would free up resources for even better protection of the EU’s external border of the European Union between Bulgaria and Turkey.
In addition, queues of cars at border crossings between EU member states will disappear, significantly reducing carbon emissions.
The two prime ministers also confirmed their interest in building a new bridge over the Danube, launching a ferry line between Ruse in Bulgaria and Giurgevo in Romania and speeding up work on the Fast Danube project.
In April, the co-chair of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Ilhan Kyuchyuk, stated during a conference organised by EURACTIV Bulgaria that he and his Romanian colleague Vlad Botos had an idea to make a big joint campaign in support of the admission of both countries into Schengen.
During a Schengen debate in the European Parliament last month, he said Bulgarian and Romanian citizens are not lesser EU citizens. He criticised the European Council for allowing two countries to block Bulgaria and Romania from joining the Schengen group.
“It’s not fair, and no one should support it! […] It is time for the European Council to show political maturity and finally, the two countries, which are the biggest obstacle to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen, to give the green light,” Kyuchyuk said.
The European Parliament accepted the resolution, stressing that both countries have already fulfilled the necessary requirements to be admitted into Schengen – though MEPs regret the Council’s decision of 8 December 2022 that rejected membership “without presenting any legal justification related to accession criteria”.
The foreign mission – with Austrian and Dutch participation – tasked to examine whether Bulgaria has fulfilled the requirements for entering the Schengen zone will present its results in September.
At the start of the month, Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner called for the continuation of the veto on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to Schengen to maintain border controls with those countries.
Vienna’s official position is that many unregistered migrants and asylum seekers enter Austria via those countries. However, Karner admitted that the number of migrants seeking asylum in Austria has dropped.
Karner reiterated Austria’s unchanged position at a Wednesday meeting with his Romanian counterpart, Cătălin Predoiu.
“It’s a clear signal that the system as a whole is not working, and I don’t think an extension is appropriate at the current moment”, Karner said.
“That’s why we are not open to its expansion”, the minister added, recalling the Schengen area border controls at Austria’s borders with Germany, Hungary, and Slovenia.
In Bucharest in April, Karner and former Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode signed an action plan to combat irregular migration, which includes establishing joint Hungarian-Austrian patrols at the Nădlac II Border Crossing Point, consolidated cooperation at the Oradea Contact Point near the Hungarian border and the management of irregular migration on the eastern-Mediterranean route.
According to Karner, cross-border cooperation shows “great results” in the actions of Romanian, Hungarian and Austrian authorities.
“Thirty-six searches were carried out in Romania, Hungary and Austria. Six people were arrested, one person in Romania and one in Austria, which shows that the pact between us is working,” Karner added, noting that this cooperation model should be promoted at the European level.
Cătălin Predoiu announced the signing, together with his Austrian counterpart, of a Dublin administrative agreement simplifying asylum procedures.
“I believe that today we have laid a first stone in the foundation of a solid partnership that will lead us both, as quickly as possible, to the achievement of common interests and common objectives of each country”, said Predoiu. He pointed to the discussions being a very good start for “a road of construction” on all the issues of interest.
We “share the same European values and ideals, have a lot of economic interests, common objectives and a lot to build, together, further”, said Predoiu.
Meanwhile, Romania’s minister said his ministry strives to make Romania ”a border protection standard”, noting that he presented Romania’s progress regarding border security during the meeting.
MEP Eugen Tomac, chairman of the People’s Movement Party (PMP-EPP), is calling on the Romanian government to join the case before the Court of Justice of the EU, which challenges “Austria’s absurd refusal, obsessively repeated around a false argument”.
“After this absurd refusal of Austria, repeated obsessively around a false argument, Romania must change its approach to the Schengen issue radically”, Tomac said.
”All the rhetoric of Austrian officials towards Romania is full of falsehoods”, he said after the meeting in Vienna.
In mid-June, social democrat Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu told EURACTIV in an interview that his government would launch an extended plan to get Austria to remove its veto in the coming months.