The way forward for Croatia to join the Schengen area without border controls is clear. Land border controls for the popular holiday destination will be deregulated at the beginning of next year. Meanwhile, Austria in particular blocks Schengen acceptance for Bulgaria and Romania.
The responsible ministers from the 26 Schengen countries agreed to this on Thursday at a meeting in Brussels.
Austria prevents Bulgaria and Romania from joining Schengen
Austria voted against the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the border control-free Schengen area. This was confirmed by Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) on Thursday in Brussels on the sidelines of a meeting with his EU colleagues. Karner justifies this with the large number of asylum applications in Austria and calls for further action by the EU Commission. The Netherlands also voted against accepting the two countries. However, the path for Croatia to the Schengen area is clear. Bulgaria and Romania responded angrily.
“It is a mistake that a system that is not working in so many places at this point should be expanded.” According to the interior minister, there have been more than 100,000 illegal border crossings into Austria this year, 75,000 of which are unregistered. Further evidence that the system is not currently working will come from the many internal border controls in the Schengen Area. Carner spoke in favor of postponing the vote on the accession of Bulgaria and Romania: “Now is not the time to take this step.”
Romania is angry with Austria
Romania’s interior minister, Lucien Bode, was furious with Austria on Thursday. Romanian news agency Agerpres quoted Baude as saying before the interior ministers’ meeting that “Romania will ask for only one thing – respect”, and spoke out again against delaying the decision. “The Romanian arguments are known and supported by the Czech presidency, the European Commission and most of the member states except Austria,” said the Romanian Minister of the Interior. He is therefore confident that the vote will be positive and that the border controls will be lifted from January 1st.
The Czech Interior Minister and current President of the Council of the European Union Vit Rakosha expressed confidence that “we will make the decision on Romania and Bulgaria today.” It won’t be easy. Rakoshan expects a long discussion. “We will point out that the countries have done everything that the European Union has asked them to do.” German Interior Minister Nancy Weser said she “understood the great debates in Austria”. She said before the meeting that she would try to talk to her Austrian colleague about it.
Romania and Bulgaria hope to join Schengen
“Today is the important day,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said before the council began. “We have a good development and constructive discussion.” Nothing is clear yet, “but I see it positively,” she said. It is the first time in eleven years that a “clear solution for Romania and Bulgaria” has been possible. Johansson can understand the situation in Austria. The country of the European Union “is already under the pressure of irregular migration.” That is why I presented an action plan for the Western Balkans earlier this week.
Sharp criticism of Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer
On Wednesday night, Romania tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Austria to change its mind. Romanian MP Eugene Tomac reported after the EPP’s parliamentary group meeting in Vienna that Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) had rejected “every rational argument”. According to Agerbris, this was one of the most tense political meetings he had ever witnessed. “He rejected everything proposed by the European Commission, denied every report and census. He just made a ridiculous decision. He just wants to humiliate Romania in an unacceptable way,” MEPs wrote on Facebook. According to Agerpress Nihammer, Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuka also tried to change his mind in a phone call on Wednesday night. Bulgaria has previously threatened unspecified “countermeasures” if it refuses to join.
The Slovak Prime Minister, Eduard Heger, made it clear on Thursday that he considers the Austrian blockade to be counterproductive. Heger said on the sidelines of a meeting of the European People’s Party in Vienna that the accession of Bulgaria and Romania would help combat illegal immigration. “We need to understand what the problem is and what we need to focus on,” he said. The goal is to “close” the EU’s external borders. “Slovakia’s position is very clear: we support the expansion of Schengen to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. They have completed the procedure and met the criteria.”
In a joint appearance with Heger, EPP President Manfred Weber also emphasized that the acceptance of Bulgaria and Romania would “strengthen the whole region”. This is why Europe’s largest party family, to which the ÖVP Nehammer party also belongs, is in favor of expansion. On immigration flows into Austria, Weber pointed the finger at longtime Schengen member Hungary. Weber urged EU leaders to confront their Hungarian colleagues at the EU summit next week: “Viktor Orbán is currently one of the EU’s open doors. He does not control his borders against illegal immigration, and this needs to be addressed.” Nevertheless, Weber was optimistic that a solution could finally be found in the long-running immigration dispute in the European Union. The Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union has made “tremendous progress” on the Migration Pact. “Now we have a chance to finally clear the matter up, to get into the system.”
For admission: unanimous approval of Schengen members
Existing Schengen members must unanimously agree to accept another country. In addition to the 22 member states of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein belong to the Schengen Area. Usually there are no fixed border controls in this area. Especially after the migration crisis in 2015, this principle was put on hold by a number of countries, including Austria.
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