Austria vetoes this enlargement for Romania and Bulgaria, while a positive response is expected, barring unforeseen circumstances, to Croatia’s request
Romania and Bulgaria will have to be patient before joining the Schengen zone: Austria is vetoing this enlargement, while a positive response is expected, barring any unforeseen circumstances, to Croatia’s request.
“Today I will vote against the enlargement of Schengen to Romania and Bulgaria”, announced the Austrian Minister of the Interior, attending the meeting of his European Union counterparts in Brussels.
Austria, which is facing a sharp rise in asylum applications, fears that lifting border controls with the two countries will further increase migrant arrivals. “This year, we recorded more than 100,000 illegal crossings of the Austrian border,” he explained.
The European Commission and the European Parliament are calling for Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria to join the vast free movement zone that includes 22 EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, within which 400 million people they can travel freely, without internal border controls.
The inclusion of new countries, which must be decided unanimously by the member states, would have the effect of reducing the queue of cars at the borders of these countries and would give a boost to tourism.
In return, Schengen member states must exercise strict control over the zone’s external borders and commit to police cooperation in the fight against organized crime and terrorism.
Croatia of 3.9 million inhabitants, a member of the EU since 2013 and which will join the eurozone in January, is waiting for a positive response from the meeting of interior ministers.
Apart from Austria, the Netherlands is also opposed to Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area. Dutch Immigration Minister Erik van der Burgh explained that his country remains concerned about “corruption and human rights” in the country and is calling for a new Commission report on these areas.
“For us it will be yes for Croatia and yes for Romania,” he said.
But at the moment, the file of Romania of 19 million inhabitants is connected at a procedural level with the file of Bulgaria of 6.5 million inhabitants. The two former communist countries joined the European Union in 2007 and have been on the threshold of the Schengen zone for more than ten years.
The issue of enlargement is being put on the table at a time when illegal arrivals at the external borders of the European Union are on the rise, after falling during the pandemic.
The numbers are particularly high through the western Balkan route, where some 139,500 illegal arrivals have been detected since January, according to Frontex. The number is a far cry from 764,000 entries in 2015, amid the refugee crisis, but does not take into account the Ukrainian exodus.
The increase in arrivals through the western Balkans, mainly Serbia, has forced the European Union to present an action plan to limit the flow, as it recently did for the central Mediterranean route.
Brussels proposes, among other things, the deployment of Frontex not only at the borders of the Union with the Western Balkans, but also at the borders between the countries of the Western Balkans.
In contrast to Austria, France believes that the inclusion of Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen area would allow “better control of our borders” and containment through the Balkan route.
The three countries “have made a lot of efforts to control their borders,” French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said, echoing his German counterpart Nancy Fesser.
The two ministers met in the morning with their counterparts in the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain to strengthen their judicial cooperation and information exchanges to tackle trafficking networks.
Gérald Darmanin stated that “more than 1,100 arrests of traffickers have been made in France thanks mainly to the European information network last year”.
If the Mediterranean countries bearing the brunt of migrant arrivals systematically accuse the rest of the European Union of a lack of solidarity, countries such as Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France are protesting the arrivals of asylum seekers with whom they should be charged, in their opinion, with the countries of the European South.
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