Officially: Bulgaria and Romania out of Schengen, Croatia is in
Croatia has received approval to join Schengen from January 1, 2023, Croatian officials said, quoted by Reuters. Bulgaria and Romania, however, remain outside the Schengen area, it became known from a statement by the European Commissioner for Internal Affairs Ylva Johansson."The last step is complete! The Council decision has been adopted - it is now officially confirmed that Croatia is joining the Schengen area from 1 January 2023," the Permanent Representation of Croatia to the EU announced in a tweet. "The Schengen area is expanding for the first time in more than a decade", stressed the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The item on the admission of Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area was officially included in the agenda of today's Council of Ministers of the Interior and Justice of the EU.
Euronews reports that Austria has blocked the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, while the Netherlands has supported Romania's bid but opposed Bulgaria's. The Romanian section of Radio Free Europe cites its sources from the Romanian government, according to which the Dutch voted against Bulgaria, and this blocked the package Bulgaria-Romania. After that, the Romanian representatives tried to organize another vote - only for Romania. In the morning debates, Germany threatened to block Croatia if Austria continued to keep Bulgaria and Romania out of Schengen. Johansson expressed regret for Bulgaria and Romania and addressed the citizens of both countries, stressing that they deserve to be part of Schengen and have the strong support of almost all member states, as well as the European Commission."As for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, we are not united and that makes us very weak and that makes me sad," Johansson added. "You deserve to be full members of Schengen, you deserve to have access to free movement in the Schengen area," insisted the European Commissioner, as quoted by the Associated Press.
The negative result, which was widely expected, represents a painful political defeat for both Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union six years before Croatia, Euronews notes. The European Commission called earlier this year repeatedly for the three countries to be admitted to Schengen without delay. The European Parliament voted on a new call for the acceptance of the three countries by the end of the year in the European space without border checks. In recent months, the European Commission led two additional checks on the readiness of Bulgaria and Romania at the invitation of the authorities in Sofia and Bucharest. Bulgaria and Romania performed brilliantly at these inspections, Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas told the MEPs. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in Tirana this week that The Hague is not saying "no" but "not yet" to admitting Bulgaria and Romania. Meanwhile, representatives of Austria stated that they do not support the accession of the two countries. In the past few years, countries that previously opposed Schengen enlargement, such as Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium, have softened their positions, increasing the chances of a positive outcome.
France and Germany, the most influential countries in the bloc, have expressed their support for Romania and Bulgaria this year. But this was not enough to overcome the resistance of Austria and the Netherlands. Since joining Schengen requires unanimity, they managed to block the whole process. Austria's opposition, which surprised many in Brussels as it emerged only in recent weeks, is based on a new influx of asylum seekers via the Western Balkans route. For its part, the Netherlands voted against Bulgaria's candidacy due to concerns about the rule of law and pending legislation to deal with corruption and organized crime.
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