Schengen Area: why is only Croatia allowed to join?

The decision taken by the EU home affairs ministers on 8 December to allow Croatia but not Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen Area continues to fuel debate. Austria and the Netherlands had raised concerns about the migration policy of the rejected countries and thus blocked the necessary unanimity.

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Trud (BG) /

Selfish reasons for veto

Trud suspects reasons other than migration are behind the blockade:

“If Bulgaria and Romania were in the Schengen Area, the Greek ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki would have direct and immediate access to Central and Western Europe, and this would pose an existential threat to the hegemony of Rotterdam. ... Austria, in turn, is the main corridor for Turkish goods destined for Germany and the whole of Central Europe. If there were an alternative route through Bulgaria, some of the goods would be rerouted via our territory to avoid congestion and delays at the ports. Lorry traffic through Bulgaria would reduce transport costs, make logistics easier and generally improve connectivity between Europe and Turkey.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Not over yet

Lidové noviny still holds out hope for the rejected countries:

“It is possible that there will be movement on the Schengen issue again after 29 January, when regional elections are to be held in Lower Austria. Austria's largest province in terms of area is a stronghold of the government populists. Malicious tongues say that the chancellor and the interior minister, who come from there, sometimes pretend to root for this region first and consider the interests of the state as a whole only afterwards. Either way, the Romanian ambassador, who has been ordered to Bucharest for consultations, will miss Christmas in Vienna. But he could be back by Easter.”

Spotmedia (RO) /

Sofia and Bucharest must stick together

Because the Netherlands was really only against Bulgaria's admission, calls are being heard in Romania to decouple the applications of the two countries. Spotmedia warns against such a strategy:

“Decoupling is difficult because then certain decisions and legally binding texts would also have to be amended. This would drag out the whole process and provide fertile ground for new tensions throughout 2023. ... If Romania accepts the gauntlet thrown down by the Netherlands and convinces Austria to back us - thus leaving Bulgaria outside Schengen - Sofia would in the worst case be able to use its veto and block us. That would bring hostilities to a head and delight Putin.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Various potential reasons for inconsistency

Jutarnji list puzzles over why only Croatia was chosen:

“We will never really know whether Croatia overtook long-time members Romania and Bulgaria simply because it is Catholic and (a little) less 'Balkan', or because it was more conscientious about beating up the Pakistanis in the border regions. Or there's a more straightforward explanation: perhaps tourism was once again the magic potion, as it always is with us. Perhaps it's just a matter of the Romanians and Bulgarians going west and the Austrians and Dutch coming here.”

Newsweek România (RO) /

Unwise politicians in Vienna

With the veto, Austria has above all harmed itself, Newsweek România notes:

“If Austria thought it would make Romania and Bulgaria the problem, it was mistaken. Austria itself is the problem. It has suddenly become an unreliable partner at the European negotiating table, capable of changing its position without warning. And last but not least, Austria has thus permanently destroyed its reputation in Romania, in the largest economy in South-Eastern Europe - where it itself has key business interests. One certainly can't say that the politicians in Vienna acted wisely here.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Protecting the external border is more crucial

The concern about a potential increase in illegal border crossings is just a pretext, writes the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“Whether Bulgaria and Romania belong to the Schengen Area or not won't make much difference regarding this problem. The most important migration routes in Southeastern Europe do not run through these two countries but through the Western Balkans. That the abolition of border controls could lead to a certain shift cannot be ruled out, but protecting the external border is of far greater concern. ... The history of European integration is full of candidacies that failed not because of technical criteria but due to the domestically motivated opposition of individual member states. Many a country in the Western Balkans can tell you a thing or two about this.” (HR) /

Now we need to finally elect capable politicians!

Now it's up to the Croatians to make the most of the opportunities offered by joining the inner circles of the EU, says

“Despite these successes, Croatia remains a politically closed country with hundreds of local bigwigs and swindlers at every level. A country ruled by a party that serves only its own interests. How does this fit together? ... We are not undemocratic. We are not incompetent. But as a people we elect dreadful politicians who are corrupt and incompetent to boot. Our accession to all the important forms of European cooperation is a huge opportunity for Croatia. ... But making the most of this opportunity depends on us, the citizens. It depends on who we vote for.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Croatia is a holiday destination

The Frankfurter Rundschau is critical of the unequal treatment:

“Although it knows better, the EU Commission is claiming that fundamental rights are respected in Croatia's treatment of refugees. Research proves the opposite. Instead, Romania and Bulgaria are accused of letting too many refugees pass through. Once again, those who - like Austria - want to pursue a hard line on immigration are getting their way. Everyone involved knows the main reason for the differentiation, and it is downright cynical: Croatia is a holiday destination, and there are huge traffic jams at the borders during the holiday season. The EU wants free travel for tourists, but not for people who are looking for a better life for themselves.” (RO) /

Rebuff part of our self-identity

With its veto, Austria has only strengthened the image of Romania which it has failed to correct itself, writes:

“Austria has taken the liberty of behaving miserably towards Romania because that is the image we have projected of ourselves to the world over the past 30 years. That we deserve harsh treatment, to be pushed into a corner and obediently follow every instruction. Romania has failed to prove that it is more than a country that provides oil and gas for the Schengen Area, but whose inhabitants one wrinkles one's nose at. ... Changing a country's image is a difficult task. It all starts with our decisions, which show how much we respect ourselves.”

24 Chasa (BG) /

Rejected due to anti-Roma sentiment

24 Chasa suspects it knows the real reason why Bulgaria and Romania are being kept out of the Schengen area:

“All the talk about migrants and corruption is just smoke and mirrors. The truth is that northern Europeans don't want the Roma. Most Roma in Europe live in Romania and Bulgaria, and the goal is to keep them there, just like the refugees coming to Europe from Asia. The idea is that if possible they should settle in other areas besides Turkey which are in the EU, but not entirely.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Illogical and inconsistent

Austria is acting strangely at the political level, writes the Wiener Zeitung:

“The fact that this country is gambling away good will in Bulgaria and Romania and in Brussels by vetoing these countries' Schengen accession is unfortunate, because at the same time Austria is urging its European partners to finally offer Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, northern Macedonia and Serbia reasonable prospects of [EU] accession. ... If Austria doesn't even want Bulgaria and Romania to join Schengen, why should it consider membership for the Western Balkan countries that are not yet part of the Union?”

Libération (FR) /

A complete lack of solidarity

Vienna and Amsterdam could not care less about the situation of their EU partners, criticises Jean Quatremer, Libération's Brussels correspondent:

“In reality, Austria, where the Greens are part of the government coalition, and the Netherlands [which voted against Bulgaria's accession] are engaging in purely domestic politics, pandering to the populists without worrying about the damage they are causing in these two countries. They forget that Bulgaria and Romania are standing firm with their partners against Russia, despite extremely divided public opinion and economies that have been hard hit by the exploding energy prices because of their dependence on Russian gas and oil.”