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What “new Schengen” about which Emmanuel Macron talked in Bucharest will look like: Romania’s calendar of reforms and chances of accession

de Victor Bratu 17.9.2017

On the occasion of the French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit in August, the public was informed that Romania has “every right” to ask for the accession to Schengen Area and this will happen but after the area will go through a reform process.

I have to be honest, Europe of the Schengen Area is not working well,” said President Macron at the Cotroceni Palace, and the idea is unanimously accepted in Brussels. Not everyone, though, shares the French President’s view regarding the conditionality between reforming the Schengen Area and accepting the accession of Romania and Bulgaria.

cursdeguvernare.ro spoke with European Commission officials who described the issues, the vision of reform and especially the time horizon in which Schengen could be “upgraded”. With their help, we also raise the veil over the diplomatic negotiations and the political events that have influenced, in recent years, the chapters Romania and Bulgaria from the “Schengen file”.

The good news: The European Commission will present in the next two months, in stages, the components of the reform plan designed for the Schengen Area.

The bad news: Regardless of the speed for implementing this reform plan – within the Schengen borders but also in the states that ask to be part of this area – the decision to receive Romania and Bulgaria will still be a political one. Which will be influenced by the ability of the governments in Bucharest and Sofia to demonstrate seriousness and predictability.

Schengen Area – assumed risks, current problems, and future solutions

In Europe, there are 26 full member states in the Schengen Agreement, states that form an area where internal borders have been dismantled. Within this area, there is the theoretical guarantee that national systems -police, border guard, etc. – operate within the same parameters and communicate in real time.

Realities of the last 2-3 years (the attacks in the major European capitals, the migration crisis and the decisions that some countries have adopted in their attempt to protect themselves from migratory waves) have revealed though some “defects” in the system.

In fact, these are no errors but part of the architecture of this area. They are risks we have assumed because we knew that we have protection systems that can only work up to a certain degree of pressure,” one of the officials who is been working for ten years on the Schengen file opened in Brussels told cursdeguvernare.ro.

The migration crisis and the attacks have also produced a phenomenon we have not anticipated: trust has disappeared between members. According to the Agreement, each Schengen member state has the right to impose temporary controls at the national borders. Well, a domino effect has appeared, border controls in the UK, Hungary, Austria, France, Belgium and other countries. And fences. Can we still talk about trust?

In October, we will reach a crossroads, because the maximum period up to which border controls could be extended ends then. That is why there is a general pressure to adapt Schengen as quickly as possible,” says an European Commission official.

A European Commission task force prepares the package of amendments. “In September, the Commission will announce the migration package and the package of measures for the Schengen reform will be presented in October,” say cursdeguvernare.ro sources.

As a matter of principle, it is very likely for Commission officials to propose the integration of the Defence and Security policies. The common denominator will be based on co-operation, not community integration.

We do not want a Schengen Area with concentric circles, that is clear. We shall proceed to clarifying the systems – Frontex needs to grow, we need to increase the efficiency of the European Asylum Support Office in Malta. First, we should overcome though the fragmentation of the national record systems. We need to have unique, clear procedures and responsiveness,” says the European official.

The intensity of the pressure on Schengen depends to a large extent on what is happening outside Europe, the causes of migration are out of our control,” says the European official, who states that the EU is trying, for example, to operationalize a migration agreement with Libya, similar to the one signed with Turkey.

The bumpy road to Schengen

Romania meets all conditions to be received in Schengen – they said, bluntly and not just once, both the CE First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and President Jean Claude Juncker.

From a technical and legal point of view, you should have already been there 5-6 years ago,” also admit cursdeguvernare.ro sources in Brussels. Explanations of failure are both simple and complicated.

“The issue of Romania and Bulgaria, of course, is that there has been a link between Schengen and MCV. There is nothing written, there is no legal provision but politically, the link is there.

The decision to receive a country is taken by consensus and the problem occurred, I believe, five years ago, when the decision-making process was approaching the end has been blocked politically.

Germany, France and the Netherlands have not only blocked the decision but also the discussions on the Schengen enlargement. It was the time the three of them said that MCV is the mechanism that prevents justice slippages and a state that you cannot trust cannot be received, “confirms diplomatic sources.

Since then, for almost four years, the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification has been accepted and used, including by former President Traian Basescu, as a tool for controlling internal slippages in issues related to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

Diplomatic sources say that a change of Romania’s attitude on the Schengen issue took place in 2016, when bilateral negotiations with Berlin, Paris and The Hague took place.

Amid repeated claims that reforms in justice have taken an irreversible path, Romanian diplomacy has succeeded in persuading Germany to give up objections. A similar success followed in the talks with France.

We still had to persuade the Netherlands and, amid the promises made by Berlin and Paris, it seemed that we would have been successful. But the Netherlands was preparing for the elections and the issue of expanding the Schengen Area was not a priority for them.

We also approached the possibility of decoupling the Romania-Bulgaria tandem in the MCV and Schengen issue, but in September we found that we shall not succeed. Early elections came in Bulgaria and Angela Merkel did not want to reduce Boiko Borisov’s chances because such a European decision would have put Bulgaria in a very bad light,” sources from the Romanian diplomacy say.

Recent assertions of President Emmanuel Macron show that neither France is an ally anymore. “With Emmanuel Macron’s success, things have to be resumed. Emmanuel Macron has no obligation to maintain Hollande’s direction and will clearly play this card in relation to Romania to solve the negotiations on amending the directive about the posted workers. Maybe also for bilateral economic issues,” say the sources.

Romania’s accession to the Schengen Area is a fundamental political issue, admits the European official consulted by cursdeguvernare.ro.

If you are serious, if you really want to join this club, the world listens to you. Arguments can be found even at this point,” sources say.

Romania’s problem is that at this moment, when Minister Tudorel Toader is pressing with all his powers for important changes in Justice, despite all warnings from the society and the European diplomatic missions, it is almost impossible even to President Juncker to honour his promise made in Bucharest in 2017, according to which, by the end of its mandate in 2019, Romania will no longer be subject to MCV.

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