On Thursday, December 8, EU countries agreed that Croatia would join the Schengen area without a passport, but still ruled out Bulgaria and Romania, due to objections from Austria.
Vienna cited migration fears as the reason for preventing the two Eastern European countries from eventually joining the Schengen area.
“You deserve to be full members of Schengen, you deserve to have access to the free movement of the Schengen area, you have had strong support from almost all member states”, said the European affairs commissioner interiors, Ylva Johnasson, after the decision.
“I’m also disappointed,” Johansson added, saying she hoped Bulgaria and Romania would become Schengen members during the commission’s term that ends in 2024.
“As for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, we are not united and that makes us very weak and makes me very sad,” she added.
“I am convinced that their [Bulgaria and Romania] the time will come soon,” Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan said.
Vienna argued that the number of illegal migrant arrivals passing through Romania and Bulgaria would have to drop for it to accept entry from the countries.
The decision to allow Member States to join the zone requires unanimity.
“I don’t understand Austria’s position on this,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters ahead of talks with other ministers.
“I know that Austria has big national debates on the issue,” she added, saying Germany supported the membership of the three countries.
The Netherlands, which previously opposed Romania’s Schengen application, has now approved it. But he remains opposed to the entry of Bulgaria.
On Wednesday, Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said his country had a legitimate expectation to join the open-border Schengen area and dismissed Austrian claims that it is a gateway for illegal migrants like unjustified.
“We all understand that the problem of illegal immigration is politically sensitive in many member states, but preventing Romania from joining Schengen will not give Austria the answers it wants,” Ciuca said.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev said after the meeting that Austria and the Netherlands had not expressed any particular concerns about Schengen.
“Austria does not have clear data where these migrants come from,” he said, adding that according to Bulgarian and commission data, the migrants come mainly from Serbia.
Data from Frontex, the EU’s border agency, however, showed that illegal migrants mainly entered the bloc from the Western Balkans, not from Romania.
The European Commission said last month that Romania and Bulgaria, which have been members of the EU since 2007, meet all Schengen requirements. The European Parliament has also approved their inclusion in the zone.
The Schengen area currently includes 22 of the bloc’s 27 member countries as well as non-EU Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.