Membership for Bulgaria and Romania in the visa-free Schengen zone has been postponed under the threat of a German veto. Berlin has expressed concerns about the strength of the rule of law in the two EU member states.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday that Bulgaria and Romania do not meet the criteria to join the 26-member, visa-free Schengen zone.
“There are some areas of weakness, such as in the functionality of the judicial system, that prevents us from saying: abolish the borders,” said Friedrich, warning that a wave of impoverished people could migrate to Germany in search of better social services.
“We have to look at the whole picture in the country as it regards organized crime, the functionality of the judicial system and corruption,” Friedrich said.
In order for a country to join the Schengen zone, all 27 EU member states have to vote in favor of the membership application. German opposition has effectively postponed a vote on Bulgarian and Romanian membership at least until the end of the year.
The two Southeastern European nations joined the EU in 2007. Austria and the Netherlands have also expressed doubts about Bulgaria and Romania joining Schengen.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov criticized the delay, saying that “Bulgaria has fulfilled the criteria since 2011.” But he promised “constructive, open and transparent dialogue” with Brussels.
Meanwhile, EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said that Berlin was politicizing Bulgaria and Romania's accession process. Schulz said that it was necessary to wait for the European Commission's progress reports.
“We are a community of rights,” Schulz said. “I reject political criteria.”
The Schengen zone was established in 1985 by treaty. The zone has effectively abolished border controls between 22 EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
slk/hc (dpa, epd)