Wrap-up: Schengen еnlargement

site.btaBulgaria Says Softer Vienna Position on Schengen Enlargement Is “Step Forward” but Expects Talks to Continue on Full Schengen Accession

Bulgaria Says Softer Vienna Position on Schengen Enlargement Is “Step Forward” but Expects Talks to Continue on Full Schengen Accession
Bulgaria Says Softer Vienna Position on Schengen Enlargement Is “Step Forward” but Expects Talks to Continue on Full Schengen Accession
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Bulgarian officials Monday said the softening of Vienna’s position on Schengen enlargement to allow partial and condition admission for Bulgaria and Romania, is a step forward but made it clear that the country expects talks to continue on full accession to the European border-free area.

To this date, Austria has been firmly opposed to admitting Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen, citing the large number of illegal migrants who end up in Austria. The country’s new stance is that it would accept the two countries’ admission to Schengen for air travel provided that several conditions are met. These include “massively strengthening the protection of the (EU) external border by trebling of the number of border police and upgrades to the technical equipment deployed, particularly at Bulgaria's border with Turkiye and Romania's border with Serbia; land border checks staying in place; and asylum seekers being transferred to Bulgaria and Romania", to use Reuters’ words in a story on the matter.

Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov said, “Of course it is a step in the right direction because to this date Austria took a very firm position." He said that the talks on the matter are not over yet. “We insist that the talks continue to the last moment. There is more to be negotiated. The meetings continue," the Prime Minister said. 

He said it was not clear what exactly Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner meant when he announced his country's position. "If it is about respecting the common European rules, where some of the people who are caught in Austria but registered in Bulgaria have to come back here, this is how it works even now. Of course, some people have to go back to their countries of origin. We need to better understand what exactly is meant [by the Austrian position]," Denkov said. 

"As I explained very clearly yesterday, we will not accept any special conditions for Bulgaria. If we are talking about better compliance with common European rules, of course we will comply with them," Denkov added. 

The European Commission (EC) on Monday described as a positive development Austria's proposal to ease Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area. "We are glad to see that things are moving in a positive direction," EC Spokesperson Christian Wigand told a news conference. Wigand said that discussions nevertheless continue, and the EC is ready to provide its support as necessary. Noting that the protection of EU external borders is a priority for the EC, he said: "We will ensure that the necessary funding is made available. As regards Frontex, the Agency stands ready to increase its support as needed. Let me also remind of our well-known position that Bulgaria and Romania are ready to fully join the Schengen area, which we have been saying since 2011. We have also done several fact-finding missions in Romania and Bulgaria to basically check how everything works in practice. Two of them were done in 2022 and one at the end of November this year. They led to clear results that things are working as they should, and the two member states fulfill the criteria."

Bulgarian Parliament leader Rossen Zhelyazkov told reporters here on Monday that Bulgaria expects to fully join the Schengen area, including by land and air. "We meet all criteria," he said as he was asked to comment reports of Austria's readiness to relax its veto on Schengen's enlargement into Bulgaria and Romania by allowing the two to join by air only. 

"I don't think one member state is in a position to dictate any conditions because it would mean that it speaks on behalf of all countries in the EU without being mandated. I don't think any country has been mandated by the EC or the EP and the other member states to put conditions which go beyond the established Schengen membership standards," said the Bulgarian Parliament leader. 

The matter was widely commented by political leaders. Following is a takeaway from the comments:

GERB leader Boyko Borissov: We are very close to Schengen. We have enough arguments to want it not only by air but also by land. [With Continue the Change co-leader with Kiril Petkov] and our parties we are both  categorical that there should be a clear date for accession by land as well. This is the thing that most concerns our transport business, the economy and everything else," Borissov said. "Therefore, we will satisfy their demands with work done, but we want to make it very clear that Bulgaria desires full membership. The demands to accept migrants are separate demands for which the common European approach will be applied again. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Continue the Change co-leader Kiril Petkov: The European People's Party and the European liberal family (Renew Europe) are working side by side in Brussels to reach air Schengen and an exact date [for full accession] for Bulgaria. When there are common national priorities, we use all our strength because Schengen is a national priority for Bulgaria and this was one of the reasons this government exists.

Socialists leader Korneliya Ninova: Partial accession to Schengen is no good news for Bulgaria. We get crumbs. Bulgaria is an equal member of the EU and should not be treated as a second-rate country. We have fulfilled all the requirements, we should be granted full admission. Admission for air travel only is a temporary solution, which can become permanent. The Bulgarian government and the [parliamentary] majority should not consider air Schengen as a great success and should take a much firmer stance. The efforts to full accession must continue. Someone should come out and give a clear answer to the Bulgarian people: is there a requirement for us to accept refugees from Europe in exchange for full Schengen accession. Rumour says there is, the government denies it and Borissov's comments are ambiguous. If there is, that is absurd because the conditions for admission to Schengen are different and Bulgaria has fulfilled them.

Movement for Rights and Freedoms Floor Leader Delyan Peevski: It is not enough to let Bulgaria into the so-called Air Schengen. The state should not accept such development.

/NF/

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By 10:00 on 14.04.2024 Today`s news

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