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15/06/2011 The European Parliament supports membership of Romania and Bulgaria to Schengen

The European Parliament debated Bulgaria and Romania’s entry into the Schengen Area on June 8th. This was initially planned for March but was delayed due to interventions by France and Germany, both of which felt that the two countries were not yet ready to ensure adequate control of their borders. MEPs believe there is no longer any good reason for these reservations.

A favourable opinion

Criticism regularly expressed about integration of Romania and Bulgaria has not been forgotten however. Some MEPs have once again voiced their concerns. For example, they have mentioned the persistent problem of cross-border criminality, corruption and even human trafficking in these two countries.

Nonetheless, a large majority of MEPs (487 in favour, 77 against, 29 abstentions) feel that Bulgaria and Romania have made the necessary efforts to control their borders as proven by the latest evaluation reports. Prior to entry into the Schengen Area, the countries had to essentially implement the Schengen Acquis, particularly with regard to data protection, air borders, land borders, sea borders, police cooperation and visas.

Although some problems are ongoing, MEPs believe that Bulgaria and Romania were adequately prepared to apply all the provisions of the Schengen Acquis. Jerzy Buzek, President of the Parliament said, “the Schengen system is providing the highest standards of border management. Romania and Bulgaria are meeting these standards today - hence, we must not delay their integration. I call on the Council to follow the recommendations of the vote expressed today by the large majority of the European Parliament".

“We are in a position to welcome Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area,” added Carlos Coelho (EPP), rapporteur of the supporting report.

Two countries in a strategic position

However, Carlos Coelho stressed the importance of recognising that Romania and Bulgaria have one of Europe’s most sensitive border areas due to illegal immigration. With their entry into the Schengen Area, the two countries will become take guard of the European Union’s eastern border.

This is why the Parliament has made a series of recommendations. In particular, they are calling on Bulgaria to adopt a common approach with Greece and Turkey in order to deal with a possible increase in migratory pressure.

The Council will have the last word

The Parliament’s favourable vote was discussed by the EU’s interior ministers on June 9th but no decision was made on this occasion. They did however congratulate the two countries for the progress that has been made.

Claude Guéant, France’s Interior Minister, believes that a two-stage membership process is emerging, “The first step would be in autumn (2011) with the opening of air borders and a presence from police officers from other Member States. The second stage would happen later, in 2012, heralding the opening of land borders also with the help of border control guards from other Member States.”

Governments are still waiting on the European Commission report on justice and corruption reforms in the two countries which is expected in July 2011.

At this point, the final decision will be made in Council by unanimous vote of all the governments of States already in the Schengen Area. If Bulgaria and Romania want to be admitted into Schengen before the end of the year, they will need to convince six countries in particular – the Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. These countries have shown themselves to be most reticent about Bulgaria and Romania gaining membership too quickly.

The Netherlands in particular demanded last Thursday a probation period of at least one year to ensure that the two new members have the capacity to control the Area’s borders without EU passports.

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