Lead: The EU Home Affairs Council blocked Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen Area with only 2 votes against the expansion. Croatia will join starting on January 1st.
A key vote was held on December 8th in Brussels for the expansion of the Schengen Area into Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia. Austria and the Netherlands voted against expansion into Romania and Bulgaria. The two countries required a unanimous positive vote. Austria opposed their accession, claiming 75.000 undocumented immigrants passed through the southeastern border, which was dismissed by the Frontex data. The Netherlands opposed Romania’s accession for the sole fact that the bid became intertwined with Bulgaria’s, but they are very much in favor of Romania becoming a member. The Dutch representative stated that Bulgaria must first resolve its issues with corruption and organized crime before joining.
The Bulgarian prime minister, Galab Donev, threatened Austria and The Netherlands with countermeasures. He didn’t go into details about what they were, but he stated he hoped they wouldn’t have to do that. Inside sources from Bulgaria claimed one of these countermeasures refers to blocking the candidacy of Hans Leijtens for the head of Frontex. This information cannot be fully verified.
Despite the two countries opposing the expansion, Romania completed the Schengen evaluation process in 2011 and meets all the requirements to become a member. The EU Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, stated that “these three Member States deserve to feel fully European.” Johansson also said that “Romania had proven it meets all these requirements and therefore deserves full Schengen membership.”
The Romanian Social Democratic Party leader, Marcel Ciolacu, stated that “by blocking Romania’s Schengen membership, Austria gave Putin the most wonderful gift” and that “all of Europe sides with Romania.”
This political blow to Romania and Bulgaria means they won’t yet benefit from increased border safety, free cross-border travel, and increased tourism.
Becoming a member of the Schengen Area is a legal obligation for every EU country.
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