Why Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia should join the Schengen Area

, by Thomas Buttin, Translated by Juuso Järviniemi

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Why Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia should join the Schengen Area

Last spring, the European Parliament reiterated its support for the “immediate accession” of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen Area, as well as that of Croatia, as soon as the accession criteria are met. The European Commission, however, already gave a green light for Bulgaria and Romania to join the area of free movement of people back in 2010. The countries’ admission requires a unanimous vote in the Council, where it has been blocked by several countries, including France and the Netherlands. [1]

Even if the concerns of the countries opposed to the accession can be justified in the wake of debates on immigration, any real arguments are becoming more and more rare now that all the political and technical requirements concerning the protection of the EU’s external borders have been met. Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007, while Croatia joined us in 2013. The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism has accompanied these countries so that they make the necessary reforms, and to ensure efficiency in combating corruption and transnational crime.

Significant progress has taken place, but the reform of their judicial systems in the field of fight against corruption and organised crime hasn’t been completed. This argument is often used by the opponents of these countries’ accession. However, for Olga Potemkina, Head of Department of European Integration at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, this seems to be an excuse to delay the enlargement.

This debate on the accession of Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria to the Schengen Area has become long. The European Commission is strengthening its efforts to ensure convergence between member states, for example by proposing that Croatia join the Schengen Information System, when these countries wish to pursue further integration. It’s time to integrate in the area of freedoms the countries that last joined the EU, to get back a kind of European unity that has become rare.

Getting back the unity of the Schengen Area and ensuring Europeans’ security

The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries, including Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985 and in 1990, principally aims at removing internal borders between the signatory countries and at reinforcing the external European borders through their joint management. The Schengen Area thus ensures the free movement of people: it facilitates intra-European economic and touristic movements. The agreement also stipulates security measures within the Schengen Area to fight against the development of transnational crime.

If the member states want to make an area without internal borders last, it’s necessary to show greater solidarity in the management of migration flows and external borders, as well as in the fight against terrorism. The unity of the Schengen Area that has suffered in the past few years could become reality again with the accession of Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. This enlargement would remove the difference observed in the relations between national authorities because all would be part of the Schengen Area. Within the EU, only the Republic of Ireland would retain its Schengen opt-out, if one excludes the complex situation of Cyprus.

What’s more, these new countries would have access to the Schengen Information System and the different databases of Europol to maintain public security through close police and judicial cooperation between European authorities. From the viewpoint of Europeans’ security, Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria joining the Schengen Area would represent considerable progress in border surveillance and in the fight against transnational crime. As such, it would give added strength to the security of the Schengen Area, as well as effectiveness in the fight against crime and terrorism.

Better managing Europe’s borders

Bulgaria and Romania “play a key role in surveillance-related operations in the Black Sea, as well as on the Danube River” because of their common borders with Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine, Serbia and North Macedonia. Indeed, these countries make up important buffer zones at the entrance to the Schengen Area, and consequently contribute to the operations of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). The removal of all restrictions to the use of the Schengen Area’s tools, through the accession of these countries, will provide the means to ensure the same level of protection of the Union’s external borders as that guaranteed by other member states.

The Schengen accession of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia would also be a positive signal in favour of the strengthening of the EU’s external borders, as opposed to the introduction of internal borders. Clear European borders would help better make sense of the border management system, and thereby strengthen the unity of the Schengen Area.

Giving a strong political signal

The global context of the last few years, which has too often led to terrorism and migration being associated with each other, has in a sense enabled a strengthening of Schengen by the strengthening of Europe’s borders, but it has also been the reason for the unilateral reintroduction of national borders. The integrity of this area of freedoms is therefore threatened by national governments and the public opinion despite the actions taken by the Commission and the Parliament to preserve this fundamental asset.

Integrating Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania in the Schengen Area is a way to secure the zone’s future by giving a strong and brave political signal. It’s a way to bring, despite the controversies, a breath of fresh air to this area of freedoms.

Footnotes

[1The European Commission first added the Schengen accession of Romania and Bulgaria on the agenda in 2010. The accession was accepted by the European Parliament in June 2011, but the Council has been blocking it since September 2011.

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