The European Parliament urged the Schengen member states on Tuesday (18 October) to allow Romania and Bulgaria to join the EU free movement area without further delay.
In a resolution, MEPs said the Council should adopt a decision on Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen free movement area by the end of 2022. This should ensure the abolition of checks on persons at all internal borders for both countries in early 2023. The resolution was adopted with 547 votes in favour, 49 votes against, and 43 abstaining.
Noting that the Schengen area is “one of the greatest achievements of the European Union,” MEPs criticised the Council’s failure to take a decision on admitting Bulgaria and Romania, even though the two countries have long since fulfilled the necessary conditions.
Maintaining internal border controls is discriminatory and has a serious impact on the lives of mobile workers and citizens, MEPs argued, adding that by obstructing imports, exports and the free flow of goods from freight ports, they also harm the EU single market.
MEPs rejected proposals by the Green and by far-left Irish MEP Claire Daly to include in the resolution mention of violations of migrants’ rights at the Bulgarian and Romanian borders, as well as cases of pushbacks at the borders. Amendments calling on the authorities to take additional measures to guarantee fundamental rights were also rejected.
Currently, as Croatia is on its way to joining the Schengen zone, the only EU member states remaining outside the union’s border-free area are Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Ireland. The Schengen area also includes the non-EU states Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
As early as 2011, the European Parliament stated that Romania and Bulgaria had prepared to accede to the Schengen area. The Commission has also long ago said that the two countries fulfil the technical criteria, but since the decision to take on board new members is taken by unanimity in the Council, there has always been a member opposing the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, notably the Netherlands.
The Czech presidency of the Council of the EU has already said it will try to achieve unanimity on Sofia’s and Bucharest’s bids by putting the matter to a vote at the EU home ministers’ meeting in December and at the December EU summit in the next days.
Several Schengen member states last week sent inspectors to Bulgaria and Romania to assess their progress. The results of the inspections will be discussed at the expert level on 26 October.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]