New year, no Schengen. Romania’s diplomatic defense and lack of policy response

Posted on 18. December 2013

by Doris Manu

doris-manu1st of January 2014, the date when Romania and Bulgaria were supposed to enter the Schengen area, is just around the corner, yet the magic is not going to happen. We know it from Jose Manual Barroso, the president of the European Commission, who reassured the French about it while making the declaration to a French TV station. “Romania and Bulgaria will not enter the Schengen area because there are countries that are against,” said the Commission president. Earlier this autumn, media in France quoted an unnamed source from the French Government claiming that President Francois Hollande will block Romania’s bid to enter the Schengen zone, supporting the position of France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who expressed concerns over the influx of Roma to the country.

The reaction of the Romanian MFA to the entry refusal was nothing but defensive. ”We can not sit on our knees and with an outstretched arm, as long as we have met the clear criteria and the technical objectives of the Schengen acquis and, at the same time, we pay for things not related to us”, said Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean. But did Romania actually meet the conditions?

Being granted membership in the passport-free area is a sign of trust – the states trust each other enough to have no more border checks – and the conditions of entry into Schengen are technical: a state must be able to effectively guard the external borders on behalf of all the Schengen member states, to have the right equipment, trained border guards, the Schengen data system, to have a uniform visa policy and police and judicial cooperation with all the other Member States, etc. However, there is something political about it, and this is where France & Co. are not willing to compromise.

France does not trust Romania enough to remove border controls for its citizens and the fact that it is the main opponent to Romania’s accession to Schengen is not accidental nor does it have any historical causes as the diplomatic relations between the two states were for the most part outstanding. The mistrust has developed over the past 7 years of Romania’s membership in the EU in which it was unable to solve the pending issues at the time of accession – judicial reform and the fight against corruption, monitored from Brussels through the Mechanism for Verification and Cooperation (MVC), and the integration of the Roma minority. Now these have been connected to the Schengen accession, but not without a reason. Corruption, rule of law and Roma migration are very relevant to the passport free zone, although they are not part of the technical acquis.

If there is a problem with corruption and the state administration (e.g. border police) is corrupt, economic migrants and criminals from outside the EU would find it easier to enter the Schengen area by bribing the border guards, even if the best cameras are installed at the border. Also, Romanian citizens involved in illegal activities in old member states would easily return to Romania and remain unpunished if the judiciary and rule of law in general is ineffective. Considering that one out of ten foreigners involved in criminal activities in France is a Romanian citizen, this country’s concern is understandable. Another source of concern for France is the Roma population. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria still live in France after the forced expulsions over the last few years, according to Amnesty International. Their migration to the wealthy Member States, France among them, is a result of the lack of opportunities and education, precarious living conditions, discrimination and segregation they face in Romania. Since the majority lacks education (only 10% of the Roma expats in France finished secondary school) and faces work restrictions in the Schengen space, the result is that some of them are involved in criminal activities during their short or long stays abroad and once Romania is in Schengen, it would be more difficult to track them.

The Romanian government did not manage to find sustainable solutions to corruption and to prevent the mass migration of the Roma population by integrating it, although it had massive EU funding and support available for that. In the case of the Roma minority, exporting the problem hits back since France and other EU countries do not want to take up the challenge of integration. Romania has arguably fulfilled the technical conditions for the entry into Schengen, but superficially, without addressing the structural problems and related relevant issues which could pose problems to other EU members and to the EU as a whole later on. The lack of reform and policy response to the demands from Brussels and Paris will not go unnoticed this time as it did at the time of EU accession, so Romania is not paying for things ‘not related to us’ but for its own mistakes and lack of action.