The EU Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) has called on EU ministers to allow Romania and Bulgaria to complete the Schengen area accession process “as soon as possible”.
The Schengen area, described by the committee as “one of the greatest achievements of the EU”, comprises 26 EU Member States and adjoining countries which do not impose border checks on travellers moving between Schengen countries. At present the only Member States not part of Schengen are Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and the UK; though Bulgaria and Romania are in the process of implementing the Schengen area accession process and Croatia seems likely to follow them shortly.
Romania and Bulgaria have been hampered in their accession to Schengen status by the imposition of a two-step Schengen area accession process: first border checks will end at internal air and sea borders, then checks will be deactivated at internal land borders. Committee MEPs highlighted the risks this approach could pose and criticised the degree to which the imposition of a two-step process has slowed down the progress of full accession to Schengen status for both countries.
Imposing land border checks while keeping air and sea borders open, the committee declared, would undermine citizens’ trust in the institutions of the EU and their countries’ ability to integrate fully into the union. The two-step process causes further issues for the EU’s internal markets, particularly imports to and exports from Bulgaria and Romania.
The two-step Schengen area accession process was imposed on Romania and Bulgaria by other EU Member States as a condition of Schengen membership, on the basis that they had not fully met the full accession criteria pertaining to reducing crime and corruption.
Rapporteur Sergei Stanishev said: “Today, the Civil Liberties Committee reaffirmed that Bulgaria and Romania should become fully-fledged Schengen members, and rejected the prospects for partial accession with air and maritime borders first, and then, eventually with land borders. This ‘two-step’ approach is a dangerous precedent that not only lacks any legally sound justification, but also entails a number of economic, social and political downsides for the EU.”