Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are ‘ready’ to join Schengen, says European Commission

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Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are “ready” to join the passport-free Schengen Area after having met all the necessary criteria, the European Commission has said.

An enlarged Schegen will make Europe ”safer, more prosperous and more attractive,” the executive said on Wednesday, calling on member states to accept the three candidates.

The categorical endorsement comes in the run-up of a high-stakes meeting of interior ministers in December, where the issue of Schengen accession is set to come back to the table.

Joining Schengen requires, among other things, the application of common rules, proper management of external borders, sharing of security information and efficient police cooperation. 

A unanimous vote is required to admit new members.

Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania have been waiting for years to join the passport-free area, which currently encompasses 26 nations, including 22 EU countries, and almost 420 million citizens.

In the case of Bulgaria and Romania, the wait has stretched over more than a decade. The Commission confirmed the countries’ readiness back in 2011 and has repeatedly called on member states to grant accession.

The European Parliament has also expressed support, calling their exclusion discriminatory.

Initially, the twin bids of Bulgaria and Romania were opposed by France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium over concerns related to corruption, organised crime and judicial reforms.

Gradually, though, the opposition eased. This year saw both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz give their support.

“Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the European Union, and we should protect and develop it. This means, incidentally, closing gaps that remain,” Scholz said in late August.

Finland and Denmark have equally softened their positions, Euronews understands.

But last month, the Dutch Parliament adopted a resolution urging the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte to veto the two applications until further investigations are conducted.

Dutch lawmakers argued the prevalence of corruption and organised crime in Bulgaria and Romania posed “a risk to the security of the Netherlands and the entire Schengen Area.”

In a bid to win over the remaining sceptics, Sofia and Bucharest invited the European Commission and EU states to organise a fact-finding mission of experts and examine the situation on the ground.

The experts visited the two countries in the first half of October. According to the Commission, the findings were “overwhelmingly positive” and proved both countries were ready to join Schengen.

All eyes turn now to the EU Council, where politics hold great sway. 

The Czech Republic, which currently holds the Council’s rotating presidency and is tasked with steering debates, has made Schengen enlargement one of its top priorities.

But the clock is ticking: the next – and likely last – chance that Prague will have to put the long-stalled question to a vote will be on 9 December, when justice and home affairs ministers are scheduled to meet.

Only a unanimous endorsement can abolish checks at all internal borders.

Should the three countries be accepted, only two out of the 27 EU member states would remain out of Schengen: Ireland, who voluntarily opted out to maintain its own travel scheme with the UK, and Cyprus, which remains divided between north and south.

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