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December 7, 2021

Schengen accession: Netherlands doubts Romania is ‘rule-of-law state’

European Parliament to vote on Romania, Bulgaria accession to border-free zone today. Diplomatic sources say it could take years for the two countries to join in.

Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu said yesterday he invited Dutch Ambassador to Romania Tanya van Gool to the ministry for a talk about a Dutch diplomat’s recent comments on the state of the Romanian judiciary. The move came after RFI reported that an envoy of The Netherlands to the EU, whose name was not revealed, said justice reform in Romania is still facing big problems and voiced doubt that the country is “a rule of law.” The comments were made during a meeting of EU ambassadors to Brussels, which discussed member states’ stance on Romania and Bulgaria’s Schengen accession process. According to diplomatic sources quoted by the radio channel, France, Germany and Finland, known for their critical attitude to the two countries’ accession, had no objections to the report put together during the meeting. The only objections came from The Netherlands, the Dutch diplomat hinting that his country could block the document’s adoption in the Justice and Home Affairs Council tomorrow. Dutch officials have repeatedly warned that more progress is needed in justice reform in order to green-light Romania’s accession to the border-free zone. The report however notes that both Bucharest and Sofia have met technical criteria for accession and says that European home affairs ministers should discuss the case again in September.

Commenting on the RFI report, Predoiu said the Justice Ministry and the Dutch Embassy are in permanent contact over these matters and voiced hope that van Gool will contribute to “correcting some wrong perceptions that Dutch officials have.”

“We think these appreciations that ignore Romania’s progress in the field of justice and home affairs are unacceptable,” Predoiu said, quoted by Mediafax. He underlined that the Dutch diplomat’s statements signal an “obvious” confusion between the notion of rule of law and legal system reform. “Justice reform is ongoing, precisely with the purpose of consolidating the rule of law. These are two different things,” the minister explained. He also said that the EU diplomats’ meeting last week was favourable to Romania and Bulgaria and the Dutch diplomat even voiced appreciation for the two countries’ efforts to join the border-free area.

Predoiu underlined that Romania is a rule of law and insisted that the national legal system is working “beyond the difficulties” that can also be found in other countries. “We expect The Netherlands and other member states to have a correct stance,” the minister added. Meanwhile, yesterday evening, the European Parliament was set to debate whether Romania and Bulgaria are ready to join Schengen this year, with a final vote on the matter expected today, according to a press release from the European assembly. The EP vote is purely consultative as a decision on the matter will be made by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, scheduled to convene later this week in Luxembourg. The meeting will be led by the Hungarian presidency of the council – by Interior Minister Pinter Sandor and Justice Minister Navracsics Tibor, according to a press release quoted by Mediafax. “Romania’s and Bulgaria’s preparation in what regards the full implementation of Schengen requirements was evaluated in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The purpose of the Council’s conclusions is to establish whether Romania and Bulgaria, subjected to a complete evaluation process, meet all conditions to practically apply all relevant components of the Schengen aquis,” the release reads.

Basescu, optimistic

While on a visit to London, President Traian Basescu said in an interview to ‘Financial Times,’ published yesterday, that he was optimistic on the chances of joining the Schengen zone this year after a positive recent report on entry preparations by Bulgaria.

“We will see [by] the end of the year if our agreement, our accession treaty, is respected by everybody or not,” he told the publication. “We hope no additional conditions will [be set].”

His comments came as diplomatic sources told the British publication that Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession could take years, not months. The diplomatic sources quoted by FT said that at the moment, there is not enough confidence in the two countries’ legal institutions. The two countries’ prospects to join the Schengen zone are growing smaller as more EU member states insist that Bucharest and Sofia have not done enough to reform their legal systems and tackle corruption since joining the bloc in 2007.

Asked to comment on the matter, Interior Minister Traian Igas told Mediafax that Romania is ready to join Schengen and underlined that this is “99 per cent sure to happen in 2011.” The minister underlined that he will travel to Luxembourg for the Justice and Home Affairs Council session and that he will have talks with his counterparts from Hungary and Poland (which will take over the EU presidency in the second half of the year), who support Romania’s accession to Schengen.

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