Croatia has received approval to join Schengen from January 1, 2023, Croatian officials said, quoted by Reuters. However, Bulgaria and Romania remain outside the Schengen area, it became known from a statement by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.” The final step is complete! The Council’s decision has been adopted – it is now officially confirmed that Croatia is joining the Schengen area from 1 January 2023,” the Permanent Representation of Croatia to the EU announced in a tweet. “The Schengen area is expanding for the first time in more than a decade,” emphasized the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The item on the accession of Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area was officially included on the agenda of today’s Council of Ministers of the EU’s Minister of the Interior and Justice.
Euronews reports that Austria has blocked the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, while the Netherlands has supported Romania’s bid but opposed Bulgaria’s. The Romanian section of Radio Free Europe cites its sources from the Romanian government, according to which the Dutch voted against Bulgaria, and this blocked the Bulgaria-Romania package. Then the Romanian representatives tried to organize another vote – just for Romania. During the morning debates, Germany threatened to block Croatia if Austria continued to keep Bulgaria and Romania out of Schengen. Johansson lamented Bulgaria and Romania and addressed the citizens of both countries, stressing that they deserve to be part of Schengen and have the strong support of almost all member states, as well as the European Commission.” Regarding the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, we are not united and that makes us very weak and that makes me sad,” Johansson added. “You deserve to be full members of Schengen, you deserve to have access to free movement in the Schengen area,” the EU commissioner insisted, as quoted by the Associated Press.
The negative result, which was widely expected, represents a painful political defeat for both Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union six years before Croatia, notes Euronews. Earlier this year, the European Commission repeatedly called for the three countries to be admitted to Schengen. without delay. The European Parliament voted on a new call for the approval of the three countries before the end of the year in the European space without border controls. In recent months, the European Commission led two more checks on the preparedness of Bulgaria and Romania at the invitation of the authorities in Sofia and Bucharest. Bulgaria and Romania performed brilliantly in these inspections, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told MEPs. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in Tirana this week that The Hague is not saying “no” but “not yet” to hosting Bulgaria and Romania. At the same time, representatives of Austria stated that they do not support the accession of the two countries. In recent years, countries that previously opposed Schengen enlargement, such as Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium, have softened their positions, increasing the chances of a positive outcome.
France and Germany, the most influential countries in the bloc, have expressed their support for Romania and Bulgaria this year. But this was not enough to overcome the opposition of Austria and the Netherlands. Since accession to Schengen requires unanimity, they managed to block the entire process. Austria’s opposition, which surprised many in Brussels because it only emerged in recent weeks, is based on a new influx of asylum seekers via the Western Balkans route. The Netherlands voted against Bulgaria’s candidacy due to concerns about the rule of law and ongoing legislation to deal with corruption and organized crime.
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