Schengen – Croatia enters, Romania and Bulgaria are still out

Croatia enters, Romania and Bulgaria are still out. The meeting of interior ministers of the European Union gave the green light to Zagreb, which will join the Schengen area from 1 January 2023, the same date on which it will adopt the Euro.

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said she was equally disappointed, but also confident that Romania will join the EU “before the end of the mandate” of the European Commission, in 2024. Romania has waited 11 years to join Schengen.

What are the non-Schengen states?

Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden.

Access to the free movement area has been granted to Croatia, but not to Sofia and Bucharest. Who did not take it well at all, the Bulgarian Interior Minister, together with his Romanian counterpart, came out defeated from the meeting in which the future of Schengen, the largest free movement area in the world, was decided.

From 1 January 2023 Croatia will also be part of it, but not Bulgaria and Romania, which remain out due to the vetoes of Asutria and the Netherlands.

The Schengen area, created in 1985, is a pillar of the single European market: it is possible to move between the countries that adhere to it without the need for border controls. It is made up of almost all the countries of the European Union (23 out of 27 with Croatia), plus Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

Being included in EU legislation, all EU countries are required to join, except Ireland which has negotiated an opt-out clause.

The other three nations outside Schengen remain excluded because they have not been deemed capable of applying the common rules so far: adequate management of external borders, sharing of security information and efficient police cooperation.

In fact, to enter you need the unanimous consent of all EU members who are already part of it.

The most complicated situation is that of Cyprus, whose territory is divided into two parts, with Turkey supporting the Republic of Northern Cyprus and the EU not recognizing its legitimacy.

Romania and Bulgaria, on the other hand, which have been part of the EU since 2007, simply need to convince the other member states that they are “ready” to join Schengen as well.

They’ve been trying for over a decade without success, despite some breakthroughs.

Last summer, Sofia and Bucharest joined the joint Schengen visa scheme as “read-only participants”, a formula that allows them to accept entry of foreigners with a Schengen visa, but not to issue their own.

Then came the endorsements: that of the European Commission, which recommended the entry of the two countries, and that of Parliament which supported it with a resolution approved by an overwhelming majority (547 votes in favour, 49 against and 43 abstentions).

Yet, at the decisive moment, someone pulled back. In the vote held at the Internal Affairs Council in Brussels, the Austrian minister opposed the entry of Romania and Bulgaria, the Dutch one against Bulgaria alone. Enough to block the process and unleash the frustrations of Romanians and Bulgarians, among other things “surpassed” by the Croatians, who joined the EU in 2013 and Schengen ten years later.

The Bulgarian minister assured that the dialogue will continue and expects to unblock the situation in 2023, but also hinted at “possible countermeasures” if this were not the case, without providing further details on the matter. For Romania, President Klaus Iohannis took the field directly, defining the Austrian veto “inexplicable, regrettable and unjustified”, even recalling his ambassador to Vienna.

The feeling in Sofia and Bucharest is that of climbing a mountain without ever being able to reach the top.

In 2011, the dual nominations were rejected by France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium over concerns about corruption, organized crime and judicial reforms.

Then the reforms and progress made by the two governments gradually dampened the opposition, so much so that the European Commission confirmed the fulfillment of all the necessary technical conditions.

Not enough, however, to get unanimous approval.

Immigration and corruption

The Dutch government’s veto, limited only to the situation in Bulgaria, concerns problems related to corruption and respect for the rule of law in the Balkan country.

The Austrian one, on the other hand, is much more problematic because it rests on a broader issue, which is difficult to resolve by the two governments of Eastern Europe: migratory flows.

Austria has seen a big increase in asylum applications lodged at its borders, which could reach 100,000 this week