site.btaHow Close Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria Stand to Schengen Accession
The Romanian government is confident that Romania is getting closer to joining the Schengen area on the backdrop of the Ukraine war and the steps taken on international level. In an interview with Bloomberg this week, Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said Romania could become a Schengen member this year.
"Everything we have done since the beginning of the conflict shows that we are ready to become a Schengen member," Ciuca said. "We really expect all other EU leaders to recognise everything we have done," he said.
In June, when French President Emmanuel Macron visited Romania, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said, "I had a comprehensive discussion with President Macron on the prospects for Schengen enlargement and explained Romania's legitimate expectations regarding accession."
Iohannis then told Macron that Bucharest counted on Paris' support to unblock the process. The French President said that France has been by Romania's side "for years" and that he wanted to move on the issue.
A priority for the Czech presidency
The Czech Republic, which took over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, has announced that Schengen enlargement is among its priorities.
“We intend to enlarge Schengen, we are in contact with the governments of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told the European Parliament in early July. “We take the free movement of people in the EU very seriously”, he said.
According to the European Commission, Bulgaria and Romania met the technical criteria for membership in 2011 and Croatia in 2019. However, the EU Council has not yet given the green light for the three countries to join the border-free zone.
Currently, 26 countries are members of the Schengen area, including 22 EU countries, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland are not included.
At a press conference on 7 July in Prague with visiting Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fialla said, "We are convinced that Croatia meets all conditions for joining the Schengen area and during the presidency we will do our utmost to help the country join from next year." Fialla added that during talks with his EU counterparts he had noticed that the bloc strongly supported Zagreb's respective ambitions.
He pointed out that some EU countries oppose the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
A step forward for Croatia
At the end of June, the EU Council instructed the European Parliament to prepare an assessment of Croatia's readiness for Schengen accession. The Council adopted a preliminary opinion, which is due to be assessed by MEPs. When the EP is ready, the EU Council will be able to vote.
According to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Croatia can become a member of both the euro area and the Schengen area from the beginning of 2023.
He expressed hope that the European Parliament will vote its position soon and the final decision on Croatia's Schengen membership will be adopted during the Czech EU presidency this autumn.
What experts say about Romania's chances
Political analyst Cristian Parvulescu told Adevirul that Romania is very likely to join the Schengen area this year, but expressed doubt that integration will be complete. He said it was more likely that Romania would acceed this year for air travel, but not for road and rail travel.
According to Parvulescu, even before the pandemic the political context was favourable for Romania but "it is obvious that there are still problems with corruption".
He believes that the EC still has doubts about Romania's ability to meet the objectives related to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Former foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu told Adeverul that there are a number of countries in the Schengen area that have objections to Romania's accession. According to him, the negotiations are a bilateral procedure with countries that have doubts regarding the rule of law in Romania, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Finland.
According to the newspaper. "The political context at the moment is favourable for Romania's accession to Schengen against the backdrop of Bucharest's emergence as an important international player in managing the security crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. Since the outbreak of the war, several meetings and discussions have been held with European officials on this issue at diplomatic level, the newspaper said.
Where Bulgaria stands
During a visit to Brussels in February, then Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said that "for the time being Bulgaria is not trusted on the issue of Schengen accession". Petkov discussed the topic with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and said afterwards that the problem is that over the years Bulgaria has failed to follow up on many of the promises that it made. ''We lied, so there is no trust,' he added'.
In response to Petkov’s statement, GERB-UDF MP and former Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said that Bulgaria has met all requirements to join the Schengen Area, adding that this was the position held by the previous Bulgarian governments. Mitov further said that the EP has made several calls calling on the Council of the EU to make a decision regarding this country’s Schengen membership. The calls were also supported by a EC decision. The GERB MEPs also issued a declaration saying that PM Petkov’s position that this country has only nominally covered the Schengen criteria betrayed Bulgaria’s national interests.
During an office transition ceremony on 2 August, newly appointed caretaker minister Nikolay Milkov said that the main priority for the caretaker government was the organisation of the elections, but added that efforts would also be made to tackle the complex crises, the integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union, as well as Bulgaria's membership of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and Schengen.