As the Netherlands continue to deny Romania and Bulgaria the green light to join Europe’s border-free zone, politicians in the Balkans warn that the move, perceived as unfair and discriminatory, could fuel euroscepticism and discord at a time of instability.
Last Thursday, the Dutch parliament dashed hopes of Romania and Bulgaria becoming full members of Schengen when it demanded that the two countries provide more evidence that they are also cracking down on corruption, citing serious problems with the functioning of border control and security risks.
But both countries for which thThe recently confirmed mission of experts meets all the requirements for Schengen membership, is confident of becoming a member soon and hopes, at least unofficially, that the Netherlands will reconsider its position, which it says has no legal basis.
“Netherlands are alone now. All EU countries stand behind Bulgaria; this support is important and will lead to a real result,” commented Bulgarian President Rumen Radev after Friday’s European Council meeting, a day after the Dutch Parliament adopted its resolution.
Meanwhile, Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca downplayed the Dutch resolution, saying it was of no concern as Romania had done everything necessary to meet the technical requirements for accession.
In an interview with EURACTIV Bulgaria, Romanian MEP Vlad Gheorghe (Renew Europe) said leaving the two countries outside Schengen again would lead to the rise of the far right in the two Balkan countries.
“I think that will weaken Europe. What made Europe strong during the COVID-19 crisis and now during the war was that it stayed united,” he said.
“This time the EU will show exactly the opposite and our enemies will try to take advantage of it. we have enemies We have Putin; we have other autocratic states that want the dissolution of the EU and they will see this as a perfect opportunity to help far-right parties in our states to grow. The extremists will be really happy,” Gheorghe added.
According to him, the Dutch are exporting their domestic politics to the EU level, creating very unhealthy legal and political precedents for the bloc.
For some observers, however, the Dutch reluctance reflects Sofia‘s own thwarting of North Macedonia’s European integration over disagreements over common language, history and minority rights. This led to an uproar among EU member states and Balkan countries like Albania, who said Bulgaria was “holding hostage”, a country that is both a European and NATO member.
Bulgaria stepped on the gas and said it would only accept Macedonia’s accession if Skopje changes its constitution, something the ruling party does not have enough votes to pass.
In an interview with EURACTIV, Bulgarian Justice Minister Krum Zarkov admits that the Dutch can stir up anti-European feelings in Bulgaria too.
“Disappointment naturally fuels Euroscepticism. Especially when it’s so obviously unfair. In Bulgaria, Europe is associated with requirements for establishing the rule of law, which means, among other things, being guided by rules. Bulgaria met the requirements for Schengen and acquired the right to be part of the common travel area more than ten years ago,” commented Zarkov.
Rejecting Bulgaria and Romania again breaks the rules and creates a legitimate sense of double standards, he said.
“There are not many societies, including Bulgarian ones, that can calmly accept that their state fulfills all its obligations, but citizens cannot fully exercise their rights,” he commented exclusively for EURACTIV Bulgaria.
On October 18, the European Parliament published its third appeal in four years for the swift admission of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen.
Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin voices are gaining ground in Bulgaria as ongoing political instability rages on in Sofia and the fifth general election in two years looks increasingly likely.
Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, in a country where almost half the population has strong pro-Russian sentiments, is now finding it difficult to sell his anti-Putin coalition proposal as parties are concerned about his party’s poor record on corruption.
His party, GERB, won with just over 25% of the vote but found itself politically isolated because MPs from two parties that would support it – DPS and Bulgarian Rise – did not have enough MPs to form a cabinet.
Meanwhile, the pro-Russian radical party Vazrazhdane improved its performance by finishing fourth last month with about 10% of the vote and gaining 14 additional seats out of 27 seats out of 240 in the legislature. The party supports Bulgaria’s exit from NATO and the EU.