Congratulations, you failed the Schengen test citizens of Romania and Bulgaria should be delighted by the rejection of Schengen membership applications submitted by Bucharest and Sofia, which have been vetoed by the Netherlands. Dutch daily De Volkskrant argues that it will be the spur they need to step up the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Jan Hunin


Romanians and Bulgarians do not hear good news everyday. However, this is precisely what they heard on 22 September, when EU interior ministers decided to postpone Romania and Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen Area, which allows for the free movement of people across internal EU borders. No doubt, there will be objections to this decision in Bucharest and Sofia, where inclusion in the Schengen Area has been a priority ever since both countries joined the EU in 2007. So the Netherlands’ vetoing (with support from Finland) of the demand to remove controls on Bulgaria’s and Romania’s borders will certainly not be welcomed in political circles.

A measure of Bucharest’s displeasure can currently be seen on the Romanian border, where several trucks transporting Dutch tulips have been held up since 17 September. According to customs officers, the flowers may contain a dangerous bacteria, and a number of shipments have already been sent back to the Netherlands. It is likely that “tulip wars” will not be the only response to the decision – especially in the light of comments made by the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has already promised retaliatory measures.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if the Bulgarian and Romanian populations express support for their governments’ protests. A recent poll has shown that they are not very put out by the Dutch veto. In spite of the fact that Bulgaria already fulfills the criteria for Schengen, one in three Bulgarians believes that postponement of their country’s application is justified. In short, they understand the Dutch position, which is that Sofia and Bucharest will first have to make progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

This is not the first time that The Hague has come forward to take on a task that Brussels and other member states have been pleased to avoid. The Netherlands has already blocked Serbia’s accession to the EU, in response to Belgrade’s refusal to arrest war criminals. We also know that this pressure ultimately resulted in the capture of all of the names on the wanted list over the last few years.

In favour of continued border controls

The pressure now exerted on Romania and Bulgaria may yield equally impressive results. And it is clear that, if we are to intervene, now is the time to take action. Once they have won the battle on Schengen, the EU’s two poorest states will no longer need to heed Brussels on this issue.

The Dutch veto will definitely be good news everyone who cares about the fate of the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania. I am certain that in Bulgaria and Romania, people are much more worried about corruption and organised crime than they are about border controls.

A few years ago, Bulgarian journalist Lidya Pavlova won the Courage in Journalism Award for daring to write a series of reports about the mafia in her home town. She subsequently paid a high price for her bravery: her car was destroyed and her son, who was attacked and beaten, had to be hospitalised twice.

A lot has changed in the course of her ordeal which has lasted for several years. Although the two local mafia bosses are now behind bars, the town is still not a completely safe place for her to live. When I tried to obtain an interview with Lidya Pavlova last month, she told me: “I don’t want any more trouble.” Then she added that her car windows “have now been smashed 12 times.” Enough said. I will remain in favour of continued border controls until Lidya Pavlova no longer has to worry about her car windows. ( Fonte: De Volkskrant


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