Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, was determined that last week’s summit of EU leaders should yield more positive language than previous summits on the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area – and it did.
On Thursday (1 March), Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, agreed that home affairs ministers should revisit the matter in September – in effect an instruction for them to approve the two countries’ membership of the EU’s area of borderless travel, according to officials. Last year, the Netherlands blocked Bulgaria and Romania from joining Schengen, saying that they had not done enough to fight corruption and organised crime.
The passage of time clearly helped reach a compromise. In December, Rutte said that two positive monitoring reports from the European Commission on the two countries’ fight against crime and graft were required before he could agree that they join the Schengen area. Interim reports were issued last month; annual reports are due in June.
Conditions for accession
Rutte can now say that he is holding firm on the Dutch conditions for Schengen accession, provided the June reports are reasonably positive. At the same time, he has removed a long-standing irritant from his relations with the rest of the EU.
The compromise was struck in a meeting arranged by Van Rompuy on Thursday (1 March) between Rutte, Boyko Borisov, his Bulgarian counterpart, and Traian Ba?sescu, Romania’s president.
The leaders re-affirmed their support for a proposal for Bulgaria’s and Romania’s staged entry to the Schengen area, made by Poland when it held the rotating presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers in the second half of last year.
Assuming there is a positive decision in September, border-checks at airports and seaports are to be scrapped late in October; land borders will follow at a later, unspecified date. But since both stages will be subject to a single decision, in September, the second stage is a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’. This will be appreciated in Romania (seen by the Dutch as the more problematic of the two countries), which holds a parliamentary election in November.
A meeting of home affairs ministers which takes place today (8 March) is to discuss measures to assist Bulgaria and Romania to join Schengen later this year, as instructed by last week’s European Council.
However, last week’s compromise remains hostage to the vagaries of Dutch domestic politics. “Nothing is for sure with the Dutch,” an official said.
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