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PostSubject: Schengen Zone   Wed Dec 22, 2010 12:11 am

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and Bulgaria blocked from joining Schengen zone
Bulgaria says it will try to allay other nations' concerns Continue reading the main story
EU harmonises Schengen visa rules
Balkan states' travel to EU eased
France and Germany have decided to block Bulgaria and Romania from joining the Europe's passport-free travel zone.

The French and German interior ministers said it was "
premature"
to let them join Schengen in March 2011.

They said Bulgaria and Romania needed to make "
irreversible progress"
in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Romania condemned the decision, while Bulgaria promised to "
do its utmost"
to remove doubts about its membership.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux and his German counterpart, Thomas de Maiziere, raised their objections in a letter to European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, AFP news agency reported.

Experts from EU states who visited Romania and Bulgaria are due to present a report in January that will be used by governments to make a decision on Romanian and Bulgarian membership, but it must be agreed by the Schengen members in unanimity.

"
Grave consequences"


A spokesman for Germany's interior ministry said there had also been a lack of progress by Romania and Bulgaria in reforming their judiciary, Associated Press news agency reported.

The spokesman said those deficits could have "
grave consequences for the European Union's security"
and raised concerns about an "
overly swift"
adhesion to the Schengen area.

Romanian President Traian Basescu said: "
I believe that the Franco-German letter sent to the European Commission is an act of discrimination against Romania."


Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Vessela Tcherneva told AFP: "
We are aware that the political situation in some EU member countries is complicated. For that reason, we will do our utmost to remove any doubts, including in the areas of the judicial system and society as a whole."

The Schengen zone is made up of 25 European countries - the 27 EU members, minus the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus;
plus three non-EU nations - Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.
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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:20 am

From Novinite

BULGARIA NOT READY FOR SCHENGEN - EX STATE SECURITY HEAD

Bulgaria is still far from being fully prepared to join Schengen area, claims a security expert and key figure from the secret police during the communist regime.

"
Bulgaria is not near to stable and normal readiness for all major Schengen criteria,"
Tsvyatko Tsvetkov, who served as Chief Secretary of the Interior Ministry during the disastrous ruling of Socialist Zhan Videnov, told Xinhua news agency in an interview.

Bulgaria's government said on Tuesday it is continuing with preparations to join the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone and will be ready to accede in March, despite the strong opposition from a coalition of older EU member states.

According to Tsvetkov however the most optimistic outlook is that Bulgaria will become part of the visa-free zone created by the Schengen Agreement at the end of 2011.

"
My own forecast is for no accession before 2012,"
he added.

Bulgaria, said Tsvetkov, is lagging behind in four key areas, namely understanding of the Schengen policy, security, institution-building and technical readiness.

Arguing that the current government has not understood yet what the Schengen policy means, Tsvetkov said that Sofia is not politically ready to rationalize its role and place in the Schengen framework.

Meanwhile, rampant organized crime and smuggling, together with a relatively deficient legal framework, also mean that Bulgaria still falls short of the Schengen requirements on security and institutions, he added.

On technical preparedness, he said that Bulgaria still needs to do more to meet the related criteria and expressed the hope that the country's performance will pass the appraisal by EU experts by March.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Sat Jan 15, 2011 7:26 am

From Novinite

Bulgaria Fails Final Technical Test for Schengen Accession

The final report of EU experts on Bulgaria's preparedness for accession to the Schengen Agreement has concluded that the country has not met the technical criteria to join borderless European Schengen Area.

The working group on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen readiness, which includes EC experts, representatives of the Schengen Area member states, and Bulgaria, met in Brussels Friday, with the EC experts presenting their report from their last, seventh exploratory mission that they carried out in December 2010.

The Schengen working group discussed three reports of independent experts on Friday concluding that Bulgaria and Romania are not ready to join the Schengen Area since Bulgaria still has trouble with the border control on its land border with Turkey, and both Bulgaria and Romania are not ready to be included in the Schengen Information System.

Bulgaria is said to have recognized the problem with respect its Turkish border, and has committed to fixing it.

The greatest issue for Bulgaria, according to the EC experts, is the border control on its land border with Turkey, which is an external border for the EU, and will become an external border for the Schengen Area once Bulgaria joins, reported the Brussels correspondent of the Bulgarian National Television.

Thus, the working group will send a new, eighth mission to Bulgaria to monitor its border control, most likely in March.

For the time being, the experts of the European Commission are convinced that Bulgaria has not met all technical requirements to serve as a reliable and secure external border of the EU.

Bulgaria's problem areas and deficiencies outlined by the Schengen monitoring report include shortage of staff, shortage of equipment, and lack of fixed border monitoring and control points.

Thus, Bulgaria hardly stands any chances to join the Schengen Agreement in March 2011 as originally planned;
for the past few months it has been faced with concerns and increasing opposition to its Schengen entry on part of key EU member states such as France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, and its failure on the last Schengen test appears to be putting off its accession to the borderless zone for an unknown period of time.

The final session of the Schengen working group will take place at the end of January. After its completion, the Council of Interior Ministers of the EU member states will make final the conclusions of the report on Bulgaria's technical fulfillment of the Schengen criteria.

Until then, the Schengen Area member states will have the opportunity to ask Bulgarian authorities questions about their measures with respect to meeting the respective criteria.

While, EU experts have made critical comments in their technical report on Bulgaria, the Bulgarian authorities say the recommendations it made were 'not at all dramatic' and could easily be implemented by the March deadline.

Bulgaria said on Tuesday it is continuing with preparations to join the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone and will be ready to accede in March, despite the strong opposition from a coalition of older EU member states.

"
Bulgaria will be technically in a position to become part of the Schengen area in March,"
foreign ministry spokeswoman Vessela Cherneva said in Sofia.

According to her the measures that the government has put in place along the country's border with Turkey even excel the requirements for Schengen.

In a letter sent at the end of last year to the European Commission, German and French interior ministers said Romania and Bulgaria must make "
irreversible progress"
in terms of CVM monitoring before they can enter Schengen, referring to the so-called Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, through which Brussels monitors the progress the two countries are making in justice and home affairs.

When the two countries joined the EU, in 2007, persistent corruption and insufficient reforms of their jutice systems determined the set-up of an unprecedented monitoring mechanism, which so far led to the freezing of some EUR 500 M in Bulgaria due to fraud associated with EU funds.

Bulgaria's government has repeatedly said it is working hard to cover the Schengen Agreement criteria and join the zone March 2011. The Balkan country has also started working with the Schengen Information System (SIS).

Bulgaria's government has been keeping a low profile over France's Roma crackdown, apparently fearing that tension with Paris might put at risk its Schengen accession.

The country however will most probably fail to join the Schengen area in March 2011, a target date, which has been set as early as in 2007, during the term of the previous Socialist-led government.

Hungary, which currently holds the EU presidency, may decide to put this issue on the agenda of the Council of Interior Ministers of the EU, due on February 24, but the decision will most probably be negative. The next deadline to be set for Bulgaria is expected to be November this year.

Bulgarian experts are unanimous that the country meets the technical requirements. The real problem rather seems to be the threat of information leakages and Greece's porous border with Turkey.

Experts say the reluctance of France, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria to let the Balkan country join the Agreement in 2011 is both because of domestic politics and because they really believe the entry into Schengen will be premature, just as the EU entry.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Mon Jan 17, 2011 12:47 pm

From Novinite

Romania Foreign Minister: Only Bulgaria Failed Schengen Test

Several EU states have opposed Bulgaria's Schengen entry, while Romania's final report has been entirely positive, according to Romania's Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi.

France, Germany and Finland have expressed their concerns towards Bulgaria's Schengen readiness, while the report on Romania has not shown any irregularities, Baconschi has pointed out before Romanian pundits.

He has been positive that Bulgaria will cope with Schengen's technical criteria by the end of March 2011.

"
We have done our homework and the level of preparations for the accession [to Schengen] has been confirmed by no fewer than seven evaluation missions. So I would say de facto we already are in Schengen,"
Baconschi said also on Sunday in an interview for the Financial Times.

"
As neighbouring countries [Bulgaria and Romania], we would like to preserve a sense of active solidarity between us. And we hope that if this lack of compliance [by Bulgaria] to the technical criteria is officially confirmed, they will be able to solve the problem very rapidly,"
the Romanian Foreign Minister has stated.

On January 14 2011, the final report of EU experts on Bulgaria's preparedness for accession to the Schengen Agreement has concluded that the country has not met the technical criteria to join borderless European Schengen Area.The greatest issue for Bulgaria, according to the EC experts, is the border control on its land border with Turkey, which will become an external border for the Schengen Area once Bulgaria joins.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Wed Jan 19, 2011 11:58 am

From Novinite

Bulgaria Updates Schengen Action Plan

The Bulgarian Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint with Turkey.
The Bulgarian government has made a correction to its Schengen Accession Action Plan.

The plan has been updated in order to meet the recent expert recommendations on covering the covering the technical criteria for a Schengen entry.

According to the updated plan, the building of light-construction halls for secondary control on the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint with Turkey will be a joint responsibility of Bulgaria's Customs Agency and the Interior Ministry. Previously, only the Customs Agency had to be involved in the construction.

The Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint, near the southeastern Bulgarian town of Svilengrad, is s an important point of entrance to the European Union.

On Friday, experts from the Brussels working group on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession concluded that Romania and Bulgaria – but especially Bulgaria – have not met yet the technical requirements to join the border free Schengen Area. Bulgaria's main issue is stated to be its border with Turkey.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Wed Jan 19, 2011 3:08 pm

From Novinite

Hungarian Ambassador: Bulgaria's Schengen Entry Is Technical Question

Bulgaria and Romania's entry to the Schengen zone is not a political, but rather a technical question, according to the Spanish Ambassador to Bulgaria, Rafael Peydro.

His statement was made Wednesday during a meeting for presenting the priorities of the Hungarian EU Presidency.

Peydro has expressed hope that the two countries would join the Schengen agreement as soon as possible.

Hungary's Ambassador to Bulgaria, Judit Lang, pointed out that the focus will be set on monitoring the implementation of the required criteria for Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen entry.

"
We should not speculate about the two countries' entry to the Schengen zone. But during the Hungarian EU Presidency, the goal will be to monitor the implementation of the criteria. The political and technical aspects of this process should not be mixed,"
Lang said.

In her words, the recession is not over yet and that the Eurozone is facing many problems.

She also noted that a trending topic will also be Serbia's entry to the European Union. Other priorities of the Hungarian EU Presidency will include promotion of innovations, as a focus of the program Europe 20/20, achieving an economic growth, creation of more job positions, strengthening of the contribution of small and medium enterprises, and introducing more effective measures for the integration of Roma.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Wed Jan 19, 2011 4:51 pm

From Novinite

Romania Insists on Schengen Decision during Hungarian Presidency

Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi has slammed once again France and Germany for their opposition to his country's Schengen accession.
Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi has declared his country insists on a decision about its Schengen accession during the Hungarian EU Presidency in the first half of 2010.

"
Our main goal is to see a decision on Schengen accession during Hungary's presidency of the European Union. We have done our homework and the seven assessment missions have confirmed that Romania is ready,"
Baconschi told journalists as cited by BGNES.

His statement come after on Friday, experts from the Brussels working group on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession concluded that both countries – but especially Bulgaria – have not met yet the technical requirements to join the borderless Schengen Area.

The report has come on top of criticism and opposition by major EU powers such as France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, to Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession, which was originally expected to take place in March 2011.

In the recent weeks, Baconschi has been especially critical of Bulgaria, stating time and again that Bulgaria has been dragging Romania down with respect to border control and Schengen progress. The two countries cannot be decoupled because if one of them is left out the EU will have to invest additional funds into securing their common border, which would otherwise become an internal Schengen border.

Speaking on Wednesday, Baconschi declared Romania was determined to boost its Schengen accession efforts. He slammed France and Germany for their "
false arguments and artificial links"
that they used in order to block Romania's accession.

"
We have had to meet very strict technical criteria ... and have spent more than a billion euros to tighten border controls. We would like to see Europe play by the rules and not apply double standards to newcomers. The risk exists that Romanians become more eurosceptical,"
he warned.

The Schengen zone of 25 member states and more than 400 million people currently allows free movement without border controls from Finland to Greece and from Portugal to Poland.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Thu Jan 20, 2011 7:30 am

From Novinite

Hungarian EU Presidency: No Way to Decouple Bulgaria, Romania for Schengen

Romania is closer to meeting the technical requirements for accession to the Schengen Area, according to Sandor Pinter, the Interior Minister of Hungary, which holds the rotating EU Presidency.

Speaking before journalists, Pinter has reiterated the conclusions of reports of the Brussels working group on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen preparedness.

"
There are still technical problems on part of Bulgaria,"
Pinter said ruling out any possibility that Bulgaria and Romania could be decoupled for the purposes of their accession to the borderless Schengen zone.

With respect to the demands of France and Germany that the Schengen entry of the two Balkan countries be tied with their progress under the post-EU accession monitoring exercised by European Commission, Sandor stated that there must be an inspection to find out is similar additional prerequisites for joining Schengen were demanded from other countries in the past.

French and German criticism seems to be viewing Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen readiness in a wider context, including with respect to their progress on fighting corruption and instituting judicial reform. The EC has stated several times that the monitoring under the Verification and Cooperation Mechanism is not technically related to the Schengen requirements.

Pinter's statements have come after on Friday, experts from the Brussels working group on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession concluded that both countries – but especially Bulgaria – have not met yet the technical requirements to join the borderless Schengen Area.

The report has come on top of criticism and opposition by major EU powers such as France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, to Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession, which was originally expected to take place in March 2011.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Thu Jan 20, 2011 5:07 pm

From Novinite

Germany Opposes Schengen Entry of 'Hardworking' Bulgaria, Romania

Germany reaffirmed its opposition to the entry of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen Area for the time being, in a statment by Minister of Interior Tomas de Maiziere.

Speaking in Brussels at an informal meeting of EU ministers of interior and justice, de Maiziere commended the two member states for their efforts to fulfil technical requirements, but firmly stated his country believes that they have still a lot to do to actually enter Schengen.

"
There are a lot of lapses and criticims for Bulgaria and Romania in the fields of the judiciary and the fight against corruption,"
stated the German federal Minister of Interior.

In December, major EU member states France and Germany said they would block a March 2011 entry into Schengen of Bulgaria and Romania.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:25 am

From Novinite

FRENCH MINISTER: BULGARIA, ROMANIA COULD LEAK SHENGEN DATA TO CRIMINALS

France reiterated Thursday its staunch opposition to a March 2011 entry of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen Area, in a statement by European Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez.

"
If Schengen's database enters into the hands of international organized crime, then all European internal security vanishes into thin air,"
said Wauquiez at a press-conference in Helsinki.

The French minister thus intensified worries on the part of both France and Germany that Bulgaria and Romania have still sufficient problems with justice and law enforcement that could render Schengen entry impracticable for the time being.

Wauquiez characterized a March 2011 accession to Schengen as "
premature,"
recalling France's position that Bulgaria and Romania are in addition vulnerable to illegal immigration and trafficking of weapons, drugs and humans.

Thursday German Minister of Interior Thomas de Maiziere also reiterated the negative position of his country.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Fri Jan 21, 2011 2:59 pm

Bulgaria, Romania May Enter Schengen by Air



The Hungarian Presidency of EU considers a partial Bulgarian and Romanian Schengen accession in March 2011, a Romanian official has stated.

The two countries may initially enter Europe's border-free zone only with their air borders, Marian Titulescu, the head of the Romanian Foreign Ministry's Schengen Department has stated, pointing out the positive reports the two Balkan states have received on this component.

According to Titulescu, the Hungarian Presidency considers other solutions as well.

France and Germany reiterated Thursday their staunch opposition to a March 2011 entry of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen Area, stating that the newest EU members still experience sufficient problems with justice and law enforcement that could render Schengen entry impracticable for the time being.

Hungary, however, has declared on several occasions it will do everything possible to facilitate Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen entry during its EU presidency.

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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:17 pm

From Novinite

Finland also opposes Bulgarian and Romanian Schengen accession

Finland is also opposed to Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen zone, so supporting the Franco-German stance, according to a Finnish government spokesperson, Dnevnik daily reported on January 21 2011.

"
Finland's committee for European affairs took the official position on the matter in a meeting last week,"
Mikko Norros said.

Eartlier on January 21, Germany said it was against the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen zone because both countries had not reaped sufficient results in the fight against corruption, international media reported.

Bulgaria and Romania were praised for their "
hard work"
and efforts to meet the technical requirements of joining the Schengen zone, but not enough reforms had been enacted in the two countries' respective judiciaries. More also needed to be achieved in the fight against corruption, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Sun Jan 23, 2011 8:12 am

From Novinite

EU’s newcomers smart over Schengen delay

Ever since the European Union opened its doors to Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 the pair have fretted about being treated as second-class members.

The determination of a group of EU states led by France and Germany to delay their accession to the Schengen passport-free zone therefore dealt a blow to the national pride of two of the bloc's poorest states. Traian Basescu, Romania's president, branded the decision "
an act of discrimination"
.

Joining Schengen was a priority for the south-east European neighbours and both spent large sums upgrading border security, computer systems and airport infrastructure to secure accession by March.

Schengen inspectors' final evaluation report has not been made public, but it is widely whispered in European capitals that, although Romania broadly met the technical conditions of Schengen membership, weaknesses were discovered at Bulgaria's border with Turkey.

France and Germany have made clear, however, that there are other factors more important than simple compliance with technical criteria.

Thomas de Maizière, German interior minister, said on Thursday that candidate countries must be "
politically"
as well as "
technically"
ready to join the border-free zone.

A concern is the slow progress made by the former communist states in reforming the judiciary and combating corruption and organised crime.

These worries are not new – some critics said Romania and Bulgaria were not ready to join the EU in 2007. But rather than accept a delay, the European Commission obliged the two countries to accept regular monitoring to ensure they continued judicial reforms after accession.

Under the so-called co-operation and verification mechanism (CVM) they have adopted a slew of laws and established institutions to combat graft and improve the effectiveness of the judiciary.

However, the Commission has repeatedly criticised both countries for their shortcomings in this area.

Bucharest has acknowledged difficulties with the body tasked with maintaining judicial independence and the speed at which corruption cases are handled.

But ministers have fumed at the way Berlin and Paris have sought to blur performance under the CVM with Schengen accession, claiming there is no legal connection between the two.

"
The mechanism for co-operation and verification ... is a distinct mechanism for a distinct field,"
Teodor Baconschi, Romania's foreign minister, told the Financial Times. "
It is not a punishment mechanism."


However, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, professor of democracy studies at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and a leading anti-corruption advocate, said: "
After Schengen, the EU's leverage [over Romania and Bulgaria] will be down to zero. So I believe that despite the setback it is in Romania's best interest that Schengen is postponed and monitoring continues."


Schengen membership requires the unanimous support of all 27 member states. Officials in Bucharest and Sofia recognise therefore that political considerations have also played a role.

"
Unfortunately for us the rules have changed overnight,"
said a Romanian government official. "
It's most certainly a political issue – it has nothing to do with the Schengen technical criteria."


Relations between Paris and Bucharest soured at the time of the Roma crisis in September, when France was loudly criticised by the Commission for apparently targeting Romanian gypsy camps for dismantling.

Another impediment to the duo joining Schengen is the porous border between Greece and Turkey, which is being boosted by an EU crisis force after becoming a favourite crossing point for people smugglers.

Though Greece is in the Schengen zone, it has no land borders with other EU countries.

One national diplomat said that if Romania and Bulgaria joined it would create "
a land bridge [for migrants] from Turkey into the heart of the Schengen zone"
.

A Sofia-based analyst said: "
It's hard to see Bulgaria being able to join Schengen until Greece has sorted out its problems with inflows of immigrants entering illegally from Turkey."


France has also expressed doubts about the security of Romania's Moldovan border and its policy of issuing passports to Moldovans. Romania forcefully dismisses these concerns.

Both countries now fear that the Schengen enlargement issue risks becoming caught in the French political cycle, with no possibility of breaking the stalemate before the presidential election in spring 2012.

That timetable would be far more drawn out than the one pushed by Hungary, the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, which has alluded to a shorter delay until October 2011.


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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Tue Jan 25, 2011 7:41 am

From Novinite

EC Refuses Bulgaria, Romania Schengen Reports to EP

The European Council has refused to present the European Parliament with the progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the Schengen Area.

This information was given to the Bulgarian National Radio by MEPs from the Committee on Civil Rights, Justice and Internal affairs, which is to discuss Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen case Tuesday afternoon.

The reason given by the Council for the refusal is that the reports are confidential and inconclusive.

The Committee's raporteur on the case, Portugese MEP Carlos Coelho, said he has been given access to the reports, but could not make copies or even write down notes.

His fellow Committee members have nevertheless not been admitted to read the documents, which makes Tuesday's discussion problematic.

Coelho expressed his surprise and great concern at the Council's decision, saying it hampers the work of Parliament.

Controversy flared around Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen entry, initially planned for March 2011, after EU juggernauts France and Germany came out in December with the position that for the time being they will veto the accession, on the grounds that the two countries have still grave problems in the fields of justice and law enforcement.

On their part, Bulgaria and Romania have insisted to be judged solely on the technical criteria set up for Schengen entry, and not to set double standards.
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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:44 pm

From Novinite

Sofia Seeks to Dispel Franco-German Fears over Bulgaria's Schengen Fitness

Vesela Cherneva, Spokesperson of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, has sought to refute the criticism of key EU member states on Bulgaria's Schengen readiness.
The Foreign Ministry in Sofia has sought to assuage the fears of several influential EU member states over Bulgaria's fitness to join the borderless Schengen Agreement.

The Spokesperson of Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry Vesela Cherneva has declared the government's position that the country will be meeting fully the Schengen Area accession criteria by March 2011.

Bulgaria and Romania were originally expected to join the Schengen Agreement in March 2011.

However, in the last weeks of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, key EU member states – most notably France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland – have declared their opposition to the Schengen accession of the two Balkan states saying it would be premature as Bulgaria and Romania still face issues with the implementation of the Schengen requirements with respect to controlling what will become their external EU/Schengen boders.

What is more, since December 2010 the Interior Ministers of France and Germany as well as France's EU Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez have voiced additional criticism with respect to Bulgaria and Romania as far as the progress in their judicial reform and rule of law is concerned, and have demanded that the European Commission's post-EU accession monitoring of the two newcomers under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (most notably EC's annual progress reports expected in July) should be taken into account when deciding upon Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen fitness.

The last report of the Brussels working group on the Bulgarian and Romanian Schengen readiness has found problems in both countries – but most of all – with Bulgaria's border control along its Turkish border. This has led the Romanian government to slam Bulgaria numerous times for dragging it down since a decoupling of the two states for Schengen is unlikely as this will mean additional spending to secure their joint border.

Tuesday's statement of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Vesela Cherneva has been described by the Bulgarian media as the first public reaction of the Bulgarian government to the Franco-German criticism.

Cherneva has declared that Bulgaria is fully capable of executing its obligations as a country having an external EU border. She said that the government has carried out a detailed inspection of the functioning of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in Bulgaria seeking to disprove the statements of French EU Affairs Minister made last week that information from SIS could end up in the hands of international organized crime structures through Bulgaria and Romania.

"
The unanimous experts' conclusion is that Bulgaria's national information system is in accordance with the best practices for the application of the legislation related to the Schengen requirements. Given this European assessment, there is no way to suggest that it is possible that data from SIS might end up in the hands of international organized crime,"
Cherneva is quoted as saying.

She has further explicitly pointed out the recognition of the European Commission that Bulgaria has made "
unprecedented progress"
in the fields of justice and home affairs in the past 1.5 years (i.e. since the Borisov Cabinet took over).

"
Let me remind that in July 2010 (i.e. in the EC annual monitoring report – editor's note) the European Commission and the EU member states, including France, concluded that Bulgaria has a strong momentum for reforms and has undertaken adequate measures against organized crime and corruption,"
the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said.

With respect to the recent conclusions of the working group on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen entry in Brussels with respect to Bulgaria's shortage of staff and equipment to control the Bulgarian-Turkish border, Cherneva retorted that Bulgaria's border control corresponds with the best Schengen practices, and even "
surpasses the established EU requirements"
in some aspects.

She has reminded that Bulgaria ranks second in Southern and Southeastern Europe on the amount of heroin that its border authorities have captured.

Cherneva reiterated the position of the Borisov Cabinet that Bulgaria will be 100% Schengen ready by March 2011, and expressed hopes that the country's European partners will appreciate its efforts.

The Spokesperson also addressed the criticism and fears expressed recently by media in Western Europe that millions of people from outside the EU – most notably citizens of Macedonia, Serbia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Turkey – can get Bulgarian – and therefore EU – passports based on their claims of Bulgarian origin and the lax Bulgarian naturalization system.

Unofficial reports have it that the "
easy"
process for acquiring Bulgarian and especially Romanian citizenship is one of the stumbling blocks before the Schengen accession of the two Balkan states.

According to Cherneva, however, EC experts have concluded that Bulgaria's procedures for issuing visas and granting citizenship are in accordance with the best practices of the members of the Schengen zone and fully implement the requirements of the European Visa Code.

"
Statistical information for 2001-2010 shows that the total number of persons who acquired Bulgarian citizenship in the past 10 years is about 64 000, that is 6 400 per year. This number is negligibly small given the policies of immigration and regulation of a number of other EU member states,"
the Spokesperson of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry explained.

The most recent publication in the European media on this issue was an article of the French newspaper Le Figaro from January 20, 2011, which said that 1.4 million Slavic Macedonians can claim Bulgarian citizenship on the basis of being of ethnic Bulgarian origin, and some 300 000 ethnic Turks driven out of Bulgaria in the 1980 during the assimilation campaign of the former communist regime could also apply for Bulgarian passports.

In spite of the assurances issued made by the government in Sofia that Bulgaria will be fully qualified for Schengen accession by March 2011, it is virtually impossible that Bulgaria and Romania will be approved for entry according to the original deadline. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov has recently mentioned he hoped that Bulgaria will make it into Schengen by the end of 2011, which appears to be a more plausible timeline
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PostSubject: Re: Schengen Zone   Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:30 am

Novinite

MEPs Want Bigger Say in Schengen Enlargement Process

Bulgaria and Romania's delayed entry into the border-free Schengen area highlights the "
dishonest"
and "
club-like atmosphere"
of EU decision-making by member states, MEPs argue, calling for more EU institutions to be involved in the process.

Speaking to MEPs on Tuesday (25 January) on behalf of the six-month rotating EU presidency, Hungarian interior minister Sandor Pinter said his country "
fully supports"
the enlargement of the border-free zone to include Bulgaria and Romania, but stressed that "
all technical criteria have to be met"
.

"
And reports show that Bulgaria is not yet fully ready when it comes to securing the land border to Turkey,"
he added.

But the technical issue only emerged after France and Germany in December wrote a joint letter opposing the two countries' accession due to corruption and organised crime - a situation which is being monitored by the European Commission.

"
I am not sure what the impact of that letter will be, but 100 percent unanimity is needed in the Council [of Ministers],"
Mr Pinter explained.

MEPs dealing with justice and home affairs however point to the lack of transparency and politicking by member states when deciding on which country can join.

With access to documents still being restricted for the European Parliament, whose role remains purely consultative on the Schengen enlargement issue despite beefed up powers in police matters, MEPs say the moment has come to reform the whole system.

"
We'll begin the discussions about the new Schengen evaluation system where parliament will have co-decision. For the moment we are only consulted, but we don't even have access to the reports drafted by national experts,"
Portuguese centre-right MEP Carlos Coelho told this website.

Despite common visa and border security standards being part of EU law, the Lisbon Treaty still left it up to member states alone to decide when a new country is ready to join the Schengen area.

Initially an inter-governmental treaty signed in 1985 by France, West Germany and the Benelux states, Schengen was gradually expanded and included in the EU treaties, with only Ireland and Great Britain opting out. Non-EU members Switzerland, Iceland and Norway are also part of Schengen, but they do not have a vote on new countries coming in.

"
The Schengen evaluation mechanism is inadequate. The problem is the lack of honesty in the process and the false pretence that Schengen and corruption monitoring are completely separate. There is also the hidden political agenda of France, who is angry with Romania about the Roma situation last year,"
British Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford told EUobserver.

"
We should get beyond this club atmosphere in the Council and have systematic monitoring for all countries, even after they are in - so as to avoid situations like in Greece,"
she added, in reference to the 200-or-so border guards sent from other EU countries to help out their Greek colleagues in securing the Turkish land border where most irregular migrants enter the EU.

Mr Coehlo also noted that "
member states are very tough on candidates, but very lazy about members of their own club"
.

"
And this is no good in respect to security issues. The same rules have to apply to old and new member states alike,"
the Portuguese politician stressed.
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