Bulgaria and Romania will attempt to leverage the European migrant crisis to gain admission to the borderless Schengen area. Prime ministers of both countries agreed the shared stance in a telephone call ahead of yesterday’s deadlocked EU interior and justice ministers meeting.
Romania’s socialist Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, does not officially back mandatory migrant quotas but has commented favourably about a common EU approach on the issue. He ties his support to the assertion that other member states should also show solidarity to Romania and other nations currently excluded from the Schengen area, reports EU Observer.
“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,” Ponta said.
Last week the Bulgarian deputy prime minister, Meglena Kuneva, said Bulgaria and Romania share a different stance to that of the Visegrad Group – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – who have stated their resistance to compulsory migrant quotas. Those four countries prefer instead to tighten EU external border controls.
Speaking about the importance of Schengen area membership to her country, Kuneva said:
“Schengen is as essential to Europe as the Economic and Monetary Union is. That is why we want Schengen to develop and stay part not only of the free movement, but of the security and the political prestige of Europe.”
For enlargement of the Schengen area to occur unanimity from EU member states is needed. Unfortunately for Bulgaria and Romania, to date the Netherlands has strongly opposed letting them in, while other countries like Germany, France and Finland maintain reservations focused on persistent problems with high-level corruption and justice systems.
Kuneva, who as well as being a former EU commissioner from Bulgaria is in charge of her government’s European affairs, asserted that opposition from other member states has now been dropped. This, she says, is in recognition of progress Bulgarian and Romanian authorities have made in reforming their legal systems and stamping out corruption, resulting in the imprisonment of Romania’s former Prime Minister, Adrian Nastase.
Kuneva also pointed to the security interest of Schengen area countries admitting Bulgaria and Romania. Such a move would give access to their police databases allowing other countries to identify wanted suspects among migrants at their borders, whereas currently they are only able to check the authenticity of documents.
Christian Ghinea of the Romanian Centre For European Policies voiced a word of caution when speaking to EU Observer. Schengen area membership has become an “obsession” for Romania, Ghinea conceded, adding that for other countries “there are some downsides” he said:
“Romania and Bulgaria could become attractive for refugees as a transit country. It would open up a new route from Greece to mainland Europe.”
At a time when other countries such as Germany, Austria and Hungary are attempting to secure their borders, opening a new migration front merely to satisfy the national pride of Romania and Bulgaria is a hard ask.