Finally, there have been no surprises. The interior ministers of the European Union, meeting in Brussels, only gave the go-ahead for Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area. Bulgaria and Romania, which have always held out hope, have not obtained the necessary unanimous support for their entry.
The Schengen zone already welcomes Croatia, its new member. It is the first country to enter the free movement zone in more than a decade, it will do so as of January 1, 2023. From now on there will be no more border controls with the last country that also entered the EU , in July 2013.
The European Commission recommended that Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia be admitted to Schengen, because they had fulfilled the necessary technical requirements. But accession needs the unanimous support of all members (22 EU countries together with Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), but the Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner had already announced on the eve of the meeting that would vote against allowing the entry of the two countries.
The challenge of immigration
“It is wrong that a system that does not work properly in many places is expanding at this time,” said the minister, citing alleged “security problems.”
Some statements that clash with those of the community vice president, Margaritis Schinas, who lamented that the “few doubts” that remain about the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen zone, by Austria and the Netherlands, are “political”. And although he called for “an open mind”, Vienna and The Hague have preferred to keep the door closed.
The Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johanson, also admitted the bittersweet taste of the result. “I want to say to all the citizens of Croatia: welcome! But also to the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania: They deserve to be full members of Schengen, they deserve to have access to the freedom of movement of the Schengen area,” lamented the Swedish politician.
The Netherlands and Austria have insisted that the increase in migrant arrivals in recent months explains their refusal. “In Austria more than 100,000 illegals have crossed our border of which 75,000 are not registered. This is an indication that the system does not work at this point,” said the country’s minister, Martin Kocher.
According to data from the Community Executive, the numbers of migrant arrivals have risen especially from the western Balkans, with numbers that have not been seen since 2015.
To the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania: You deserve to be full members of Schengen
Seven years ago, more than a million people arrived in the European Union, crossing borders from Turkey to Greece, with the vast majority destined for Germany, under the open door policy championed by former Chancellor Angela Merkel, and that earned him criticism and tensions among partners such as Austria.
But over the past decade, emergency checkpoints have appeared regularly during periods of increased immigration from the Middle East and Central Africa. Even now, despite being an emergency measure, controls are maintained in some countries such as the border between France and Italy or in Austria.
“The Schengen extension means more and better controls, not less. So I hope that common sense and an open mind prevail and we can make the decision, if not today, then in a few days,” Schinas said.