The Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union is extremely committed to achieve the expansion process of Schengen through Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession and will continue the demarches in order to attain this objective, Swedish Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said on Thursday prior to attending the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA).
He said that it remains to be seen whether the enlargement of the Schengen Area shall be included on the JHA Council meeting agenda in June, stressing the commitment to achieve this expansion process which started in January by having meetings with the concerned countries, namely with Romania and Bulgaria, as well as with Austria and the Netherlands, as these were the countries that hadn’t been prepared to approve the expansion so far. The Swedish official said that the discussions will continue and the Swedish Presidency of the EU Council will facilitate the talks in such a manner in which an agreement could be finally reached.
The expansion of the Schengen area is not on the agenda of the JHA Council meeting on Thursday and Friday. Thursday’s meeting is the first official meeting of the JHA Council after the one in December when Romania and Bulgaria registered a failure, and Croatia was accepted in Schengen. In the case of Romania and Bulgaria, there was no unanimity, although the two countries have met all the necessary technical conditions, something recognized by the European Commission since 2011, including following the assessments made by European experts. The opposition came from Austria and the Netherlands, the latter mentioning that Bulgaria was not yet ready to enter Schengen.
As far as Austria is concerned, it argued that it cannot agree to the enlargement of the Schengen area as long as it, according to its opinion, is not functional. Vienna justified its standpoint, expressed mainly through the voice of Interior Minister Gerhard Karner, by the fact that more than 100,000 migrants or asylum seekers arrived in Austria, of whom approximately 75,000 had not yet been registered.
Karner said that this would actually happen when the European Union border was crossed and many of the unregistered persons would come through Romania or Bulgaria.
IntMin Bode: Romania is sticking to its country objective of joining the Schengen area in 2023
Romania is sticking to its country objective of joining the Schengen area in 2023, Interior Minister Lucian Bode said in Brussels on Thursday, adding that Romania’s joining the Schengen Area will substantially increase security of the European Union’s external borders, the Schengen borders, and of the citizens of the European Union.
In Brussels on Thursday, the Council of the European Union Justice and Home Affairs discussed the overall state of the Schengen area, exchanging opinions about the functioning of the Schengen area and the future of visa policy, and being introduced to the latest developments in the entry into operation of the enhanced Schengen Information System (SIS).
“A debate on this subject has already taken place, and in my speech there I requested the completion of the process of expanding the Schengen area by the accession of Romania to the Schengen Area this year, in 2023. The arguments are known to all of you. I would emphasise only one aspect, the one I also emphasised in my speech: with the expansion of the Schengen area, with the accession of Romania to the Schengen Area, I am absolutely convinced that the security of the external borders of the European Union, the Schengen borders, the safety of the citizens of the European Union will be much increased,” Bode told the Romanian journalists covering the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council meeting.
Regarding the political and diplomatic efforts made this year by Romania in order to achieve the goal of accession to Schengen, Bode said that early this February there was a technical meeting of experts of the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs and those of Austrian Federal Ministry of Home Affairs. Also, on February 13, the Romanian ambassador to Vienna, Emil Hurezeanu, had a “very good meeting with the Interior Minister Gerhard Karner.”
“Last but not least, I would like to highlight the results of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council on February 9-10, when concrete steps were taken to achieve this objective for Romania, by establishing a pilot project in which Romania and Serbia will participate, in the Romania-Serbia border and, obviously, where Austria should also be involved.”
He welcomed the report released on Thursday by European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Jonansson that highlights the fact that in the first months of 2023 migration on the Western Balkans route decreased by 44% from late 2022.
“Although we all know that Romania is not on the route of the Western Balkans, the fact that these values have dropped significantly, by half, shows that the measures lately taken by the European Commission and the member states have yielded results. At the same time, I want to welcome the remarks of several interior ministers who, in their words, reaffirmed their support for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area,” the Romanian official said, according to Agerpres.
He welcomed the remarks by several of his EU counterparts who reaffirmed their countries’ support for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area. The example noted by Lucian Bode was that of the Spanish Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gomez, whose country will take over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council on July 1. He expressly requested that this objective be achieved by the member states by expanding the Schengen area with Romania and Bulgaria this year. At a bilateral meeting with his Romanian counterpart, Gomez said that on March 30 he will come to Bucharest on a working visit, when the objective of Romania’s accession to Schengen will be mentioned, as Romania wants it to become a priority for the Spanish presidency of the EU Council.
Thursday’s meeting was the first official meeting of the JHA Council after the one in December 2022, when the accession of Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area featured on the agenda. Of these three countries, only the accession of the first was green-lighted, with Croatia becoming a member of the European free movement area on January 1, 2023.
In the case of Romania and Bulgaria, there was no unanimity, although the two countries met all the necessary technical conditions, recognised by the European Commission since 2011, including after evaluations made by European experts. The opposition came from Austria and the Netherlands, with the latter specifying that Bulgaria is not yet ready to enter.
As far as Austria is concerned, it argued that it cannot agree on the extension of the Schengen area as long as in its opinion it is not functional. Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner explained that more than 100,000 migrants or asylum seekers arrived in Austria, of which approximately 75,000 had not yet been registered. He added that that should actually happen when the border of the European Union is crossed and that many of the unregistered migrants would come via Romania or Bulgaria, which is contradicted by the real situation reflected in the official data published by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX).
Photo: @ European Union