Romania must wait for Bulgaria in order to join the travel-free zone.
By Svetla Dimitrova and Paul Ciocoiu in Sofia and Bucharest for Southeast European Times -- 25/02/11
Bulgaria and Romania will not join the so-called Schengen zone in March. [Reuters]
Although Romania has met the conditions for joining the Schengen area, it will have to wait for Bulgaria to fulfill them as well, to gain admission to the 25-nation passport-free zone, according to a statement by the Hungarian EU presidency on Thursday (February 24th).
The two Balkan countries, coupled together since their 2007 entry into the Union, were hoping to become part of the European border-free space by the end of March.
According to the 2005 EU accession treaties with the two nations, neither can join it until both have fulfilled all parts of the Schengen acquis.
"Bulgaria has to date closed all but one of the evaluated areas of the Schengen acquis, with a re-evaluation of the external land borders scheduled for the fourth week of March," the Union presidency said.
The Schengen acquis covers five evaluation areas, including air, sea and land borders; personal data protection; visa issuance; police co-operation; and the Schengen Information System SIS/SIRENE.
The last technical report on Bulgaria's accession progress, which was prepared in mid-January, cited security shortcomings at the country's Turkish border, according to a Sofia News Agency report. Sofia however has shown "strong commitment" to fulfill its obligations "as soon as possible", Thursday's statement noted.
"Bulgaria will make the necessary efforts to ensure the implementation of the recommendations listed in the evaluation reports and regularly informs the Council [of interior ministers] on the follow-up to these recommendations," it added.
The statement offered no timetable for the two countries' accession. According to Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, a decision on whether they can join will be taken in June.
"All European countries, except France, have already made clear their position on the matter," he said in an interview with private Bulgarian TV channel bTV on Friday morning.
According to him, European experts will begin a three-day inspection of Bulgaria's border with Turkey on March 21st.
"The decision that was taken is that no decision is made," Romanian President Traian Basescu said after the EU decision.
"It is essential [that] we wait for the next inspection on the Bulgarian border at the end of March and then we will be able to evaluate a new calendar."
"Romania starts from the premise it doesn't want to be separated from Bulgaria and we are not asking for this. At the same time, we are starting from the absolute premise we will not accept supplementary conditions. This is not possible," Basescu underlined.
In December, France and Germany voiced opposition to Bulgaria and Romania's admission, citing concerns over the countries' slow progress in fighting organised crime and corruption.
Speaking to visiting EU President Herman van Rompuy on Wednesday, Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc said "We [need] a fair evaluation within the Union as concerns the accession to the Schengen area, without [being] connected to subjects that do not concern the Schengen. We are expecting a calendar of accession from the acting EU presidency."