Parliament on Wednesday gave its green light for Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen border check-free area. MEPs say they have met the entry conditions, based on progress reports, but add that Parliament should be kept informed of additional measures taken in the Bulgaria-Turkey-Greece area to cope with a possible surge in migration pressure. Parliament’s opinion will now be sent to EU homes affairs ministers meeting on Thursday in Luxembourg.
After considering progress reports on the two Member States and the findings of expert follow-up teams, MEPs concluded that although some remaining issues will require regular reporting and further attention in the future, they do not constitute an obstacle to full Schengen membership for Bulgaria and Romania.
"We are in a position to welcome Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area and I hope that the Council will adopt the same position as soon as they receive our positive opinion. (...) Their citizens should be regarded as fully European citizens, and should not be hostages of populist discourse", said rapporteur Carlos Coelho (EPP, PT).
Bulgaria - Turkey - Greece border area
However, Mr Coelho also stressed the need to acknowledge that illegal migration makes Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece one of the EU's most sensitive external border areas. This means Bulgaria must take some additional measures, including a special action plan, to be implemented when it joins Schengen, and working out a common approach with Greece and Turkey to coping with a possible surge in migration pressure.
MEPs passed an amendment asking that the Member States concerned inform the European Parliament and the Council, in writing and within six months of the entry into force of the integration decision, of any shortcomings in the implementation of these additional measures.
Checking that new members have met all Schengen requirements (control of land, sea and air borders, issuing visas, police co-operation, readiness to connect to and use the Schengen Information System and data protection), is a precondition for the Council of Ministers to decide, after consulting the European Parliament, to abolish checks at internal borders with those Member States.
Parliament’s opinion, adopted with 487 votes in favour, 77 against and 29 abstentions, will now be sent to the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 9-10 June, which is to discuss the issue.
"Schengen is one of the biggest achievements of the EU. We must not destroy it with rash decisions. The Schengen system is providing the highest standards of border management. Romania and Bulgaria are meeting these standards today - hence, we must not delay their integration. I call on the Council to follow the recommendations of the vote expressed today by the large majority of the European Parliament", said EP President Jerzy Buzek.
The Schengen area currently has 25 members: 22 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) and three associated non-EU countries (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland). Liechtenstein should soon become the fourth associated country.