The EU accepts Croatia in Schengen but vetoes Bulgaria and Romania

Austria believes that they are not prepared due to their border management and doubts about their fight against organized crime. Bucharest calls its ambassador in Vienna for consultations and warns that there will be consequences

 On January 1, Croatia will formally enter Schengen , in the European area of ​​free movement, where there are no controls and no need for visas. Bulgaria and Romania, however, no. The interior ministers of the 27 met this Thursday to formally decide and the decision, although controversial and with many political consequences, was not a surprise. For months, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden had made their reservations clear and indicated that they were not going to support their entry, for which unanimity is needed in the Council.

The European Commission, the technical body at the community level, has given the green light to the candidacies of the three after verifying that they meet all the formal requirements. But in Vienna, The Hague and Stockholm they believe that Bulgaria and Romania are not are ready They argue that they cannot ensure effective control of their borders, that their customs and controls are riddled with corruption, that they do not adequately fight organized crime and, therefore, the risks are very high. And therefore they have vetoed.

Austria has been the clearest and most aggressive, unleashing anger in Bucharest and Sofia. Romania has called its ambassador in Vienna for consultations . The Netherlands also had a firm position, but above all for Bulgaria, as the Parliament of the country had urged to do a few months ago, at the initiative of a deputy from the party of the first Minister, Mark Rutte. During the Council, which lasted almost six hours, there were all kinds of attempts to soften the reservations, including pauses for bilateral meetings, but there was no way.

“I am confident that Croatia’s success will pave the way for other eligible Member States to take the next step on their European journey”, has pointed out Vt Rakuan, Minister of the Interior of the Czech Republic, who this semester holds the rotating presidency of the EU.” “They have fulfilled all the necessary requirements. They deserve to be part of Schengen”, lamented the Swedish commissioner Ylva Johansson, who added that she hopes that before the end of her term, in 2024, the process can be completed. “Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are looking forward to technically ready to join Schengen. They did what we asked and even more than we asked,” says Margaritis Schinas, community vice president. “The few remaining doubts are political and undermine two simple facts: that we are stronger and not stronger. We are weak if we extend Schengen and, secondly, that expanding Schengen means more and better controls, not less,” he said.

Despite this, the decision has been blunt and abrupt. The Czech presidency hoped to come up with at least a more or less clear calendar in order to satisfy the rejected, sending the message that the path was set and it was only a matter of taking steps. But the most skeptical have not accepted even that. They believe that the deficiencies are deep and that it will be difficult for them to be guaranteed changes, since the Commission had already given its green light despite their misgivings.

Basically there are three questions. The first, the management of migratory routes , which is of particular concern in Austria, but also in Sweden, which during the last eight years has been a recurring destination for second displacements. Many asylum seekers arrive in the EU on foot, through the Balkans, but then continue on their way, despite the fact that the rules stipulate that their applications should be processed in the country of entry.

The second, the forces of order, corruption and the fight against organized crime. The Dutch Minister of the Interior, Eric van der Berg, said after the conclusion of the Twenty-Seven meeting that his government would like a new evaluation report on the situation in Bulgaria within the cooperation mechanism. ny verification, but this option has been flatly rejected by Commissioner Johansson, who recalled that this instrument no longer exists because it was closed two years ago, reports Europa Press. The commissioner has regretted that neither the Netherlands nor Austria have paid attention to the efforts of their services to offer them all kinds of “clarifications”

The third has larger implications. They are the same misgivings that for a decade have assumed that the EU has its hand out to the Balkans, but the door of enlargement is closed. Albania and North Macedonia have done their homework and the Commission believes they are ready to start accession negotiations, but a number of countries disagree. They consider that a good part of Europe’s problems today are the consequence of having rushed 20 years ago. The political management of the arrival of refugees, the identity issue, the challenges to the rule of law. They have conspired not to repeat what they consider to be the mistakes of that time, to be too lax with the candidates. And what is valid for new members in the Union is also valid for Schengen. For the euro, curiously, no, well. Croatia will also join the common currency in 2023 after passing all the tests .

“There will be consequences,” the Romanian Foreign Ministry has warned about Austria’s position. The ambassador in Vienna has been called for consultations to show “clear disapproval of the decision taken”, which Bucharest describes as “unfair and unfriendly” and the product of “ignoring that Romania has acted transparently”. Those consequences are not clear. There is in both countries, but above all Romania, an intense debate. There are voices that ask to imitate Hungary, which has been vetoing foreign policy issues or aid to Ukraine as extortion for a long time so as not to be sanctioned for its breaches in judicial matters. Or that they recommend reprisals against Austrian companies or in the dossiers that most affect Vienna.

Croatia will become in a few days the 27th member of Schengen, which includes most of the EU member states (except Ireland, Cyprus and the two banned ones), but also Iceland, Liechstenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The political crisis due to the arrival of refugees was about to blow up the space of free movement, after many countries imposed controls and closed borders. The worst was avoided, twisting rules, practices and deadlines, but the threat has never been completely averted.