Bulgaria Fails Final Technical Test for Schengen Accession
The final report of EU experts on Bulgaria's preparedness for accession to the Schengen Agreement has concluded that the country has not met the technical criteria to join borderless European Schengen Area.
The working group on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen readiness, which includes EC experts, representatives of the Schengen Area member states, and Bulgaria, met in Brussels Friday, with the EC experts presenting their report from their last, seventh exploratory mission that they carried out in December 2010.
The Schengen working group discussed three reports of independent experts on Friday concluding that Bulgaria and Romania are not ready to join the Schengen Area since Bulgaria still has trouble with the border control on its land border with Turkey, and both Bulgaria and Romania are not ready to be included in the Schengen Information System.
Bulgaria is said to have recognized the problem with respect its Turkish border, and has committed to fixing it.
The greatest issue for Bulgaria, according to the EC experts, is the border control on its land border with Turkey, which is an external border for the EU, and will become an external border for the Schengen Area once Bulgaria joins, reported the Brussels correspondent of the Bulgarian National Television.
Thus, the working group will send a new, eighth mission to Bulgaria to monitor its border control, most likely in March.
For the time being, the experts of the European Commission are convinced that Bulgaria has not met all technical requirements to serve as a reliable and secure external border of the EU.
Bulgaria's problem areas and deficiencies outlined by the Schengen monitoring report include shortage of staff, shortage of equipment, and lack of fixed border monitoring and control points.
Thus, Bulgaria hardly stands any chances to join the Schengen Agreement in March 2011 as originally planned; for the past few months it has been faced with concerns and increasing opposition to its Schengen entry on part of key EU member states such as France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, and its failure on the last Schengen test appears to be putting off its accession to the borderless zone for an unknown period of time.
The final session of the Schengen working group will take place at the end of January. After its completion, the Council of Interior Ministers of the EU member states will make final the conclusions of the report on Bulgaria's technical fulfillment of the Schengen criteria.
Until then, the Schengen Area member states will have the opportunity to ask Bulgarian authorities questions about their measures with respect to meeting the respective criteria.
While, EU experts have made critical comments in their technical report on Bulgaria, the Bulgarian authorities say the recommendations it made were 'not at all dramatic' and could easily be implemented by the March deadline.
Bulgaria said on Tuesday it is continuing with preparations to join the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone and will be ready to accede in March, despite the strong opposition from a coalition of older EU member states.
"Bulgaria will be technically in a position to become part of the Schengen area in March," foreign ministry spokeswoman Vessela Cherneva said in Sofia.
According to her the measures that the government has put in place along the country's border with Turkey even excel the requirements for Schengen.
In a letter sent at the end of last year to the European Commission, German and French interior ministers said Romania and Bulgaria must make "irreversible progress" in terms of CVM monitoring before they can enter Schengen, referring to the so-called Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, through which Brussels monitors the progress the two countries are making in justice and home affairs.
When the two countries joined the EU, in 2007, persistent corruption and insufficient reforms of their jutice systems determined the set-up of an unprecedented monitoring mechanism, which so far led to the freezing of some EUR 500 M in Bulgaria due to fraud associated with EU funds.
Bulgaria's government has repeatedly said it is working hard to cover the Schengen Agreement criteria and join the zone March 2011. The Balkan country has also started working with the Schengen Information System (SIS).
Bulgaria's government has been keeping a low profile over France's Roma crackdown, apparently fearing that tension with Paris might put at risk its Schengen accession.
The country however will most probably fail to join the Schengen area in March 2011, a target date, which has been set as early as in 2007, during the term of the previous Socialist-led government.
Hungary, which currently holds the EU presidency, may decide to put this issue on the agenda of the Council of Interior Ministers of the EU, due on February 24, but the decision will most probably be negative. The next deadline to be set for Bulgaria is expected to be November this year.
Bulgarian experts are unanimous that the country meets the technical requirements. The real problem rather seems to be the threat of information leakages and Greece's porous border with Turkey.
Experts say the reluctance of France, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria to let the Balkan country join the Agreement in 2011 is both because of domestic politics and because they really believe the entry into Schengen will be premature, just as the EU entry.
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