Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has maintained his government’s position that Bulgaria and Romania are not yet ready to join the European Union’s Schengen zone of borderless travel.
Rutte told leaders from the EU’s 27 member states at a two-day summit that began in Brussels today (1 March) that his government would not give the green light for the two countries’ accession until September. He said that he first wanted to see the European Commission’s annual monitoring report, which will be released in July, on the fight against corruption and organised crime in Romania and Bulgaria.
The two eastern European countries joined the EU in 2007 and have since been subject to post-accession monitoring.
Diplomats say that Romania is seen as the bigger problem but that for both technical and political reasons it is impossible to admit Bulgaria without Romania.
Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, chaired talks on the Schengen question between Traian Basescu, Romania’s president, Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s prime minister, and Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, on Thursday afternoon (1 March).
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Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, which is the current holder of the rotating presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers, was also involved.
The Dutch government has been saying that Romania and Bulgaria have not done enough to rein in organised crime and corruption, and that opening the Schengen borders to their citizens is therefore premature.
The EU’s leadership tonight sought to put a positive spin on the delay.
“We now have a roadmap,” Van Rompuy said. A decision on admitting the two countries would be left to justice and home affairs ministers at their meeting in September, which is provisionally set for 20-21 September. In the meantime, the council is being asked to “identify and implement” measures that would permit the enlargement of the Schengen zone to include the two countries.
“I have the feeling now that there is a strong political will to finalise work in September,” Van Rompuy said.
Bulgaria and Romania have accused the Netherlands of double standards, by imposing criteria for Schengen accession that are not part of the formal conditions for membership.
Rutte said tonight: “We need two [co-operation and verification mechanism] reports that point in the right direction.”
The Commission concluded last year that Romania and Bulgaria had met all the criteria. But several member states, including France, are said to be relieved that the two countries are being blocked from joining the Schengen zone. Diplomats said that any resolution of the issue would have to wait until after France’s presidential election – the second round of which takes place in May.
Another diplomatic dispute involving Romania was resolved before tonight’s European Council meeting, when Romania agreed to drop its reservations toward granting Serbia the status of candidate for membership in the EU.
Van Rompuy said no link had been made between the two issues of Serbia and Schengen “at any moment”.