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The cost of non-Schengen: 11 years in limbo

Vlad Gheorghe / Oct 2022

Image: Shutterstock

 

The plenary vote on 18 October in the European Parliament says it all: the EU wants Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen area!

The European Parliament adopted the Resolution on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area, its sixth resolution on the topic, calling for the speedy entry of both countries into Schengen.

And to the majority in the EP it looks absurd that this topic is still a matter of discussion. It is indeed absurd considering that already in 2011 the Council of the EU concluded that the necessary conditions for the application of the Schengen acquis had been met in all areas, namely data protection, air borders, land borders, police cooperation, the Schengen Information System, sea borders and visas - exactly the way it is mentioned in the resolution we have just adopted.

To add even more, Romania has been bound by the Schengen rules starting from the times when it became an EU member in 2007. Therefore, Romania de facto fulfils Schengen obligations, but it does not enjoy Schengen benefits, which should go hand in hand with the obligations.

The logical question comes: if the legal and technical requirements of Schengen have been fulfilled, why is Romania still not its full member? The reply is to be found in purely national political interests. In a strange manner, Schengen membership is more politicised outside, in other Member States, than inside Romania itself where all the political forces stand behind the accession goal - a quite rare case of unity for the Romanian political landscape.

The issue gets politicised outside of Romania, and mainly for internal electoral reasons. Schengen membership is presented as a privilege that other Member States can give or not, while in reality such membership is a law-based right and a precondition for a functioning internal market in the EU. And the victims are multiple: hauliers losing tens of hours due to lengthy border-crossing, enterprises losing benefits because of such delays, citizens being stuck - and in all fairness - humiliated in the queues for passport controls, mobile workers impacted by delays, individuals being discriminated against at the border.... The personal and economic cost of non-Schengen is high, and in addition to that, our environment also suffers due to increased emissions from the trucks at the borders.

This situation obviously brings frustration to Romanian citizens. And totally the same is true for Bulgarians.

Citizens realise very well that the question of Schengen accession is instrumentalised for opportunistic reasons by a certain type of European political forces. They know that this blocking is artificial and I think they would not be able to sustain it for much longer. For Romania's sake and for the sake of the EU as a community of values, I sincerely hope that all members of the Council of the EU will put aside their party-political interests during the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on December 8th this year. Should this not be the case and should the question be postponed again, I would not be surprised to see Romanians and Bulgarians protesting in the streets and boycotting the goods of those who oppose the membership. Our citizens are tired of waiting, and their angry reactions would be normal and expected because they are truly and utterly deprived of free circulation in the Schengen area, although all conditions are met and all institutions have agreed upon this repeatedly ever since 2011. 11 years is a long time to wait quietly for something it is rightfully yours, wouldn't you agree?

Also, note the European Parliament is not alone in fighting this battle. The Commission also called for the long-awaited Schengen accession. Today, the Commission as the guardian of the Treaties needs to be pretty clear with the Council about the protection of the citizens’ rights and their freedom of movement. Therefore I expect the Commission to inform the Council of both political and legal consequences of a new procrastination for the adoption of the Schengen decision from the side of the Council. No Member State should have the right to arbitrarily block one or multiple Member States from the Schengen area. There is only one European Union and all Member States are equal - in 2022 and with a war at our borders it is both dangerous and worrisome to witness any other behaviour.

Romania and Bulgaria belong to Schengen. We all have a window of opportunity between this October plenary vote and the December Council meeting. This should be a moment of responsibility for all Member States. It affects the future functioning of the EU single market. We all go through a rough time - European citizens juggle with multiple difficulties. In this context, Schengen enlargement is paramount to guaranteeing the smooth functioning of the EU single market - our key instrument to overcome the economic crisis.

Obviously, Romania also has to play its part. It should run full-speed towards Schengen membership and use every opportunity to guarantee unanimity in the Council. In case this goal is not attained in December, Romanians should reassess their voting position in the Council accordingly.

 

Vlad Gheorghe

Vlad Gheorghe

October 2022

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