Anton Pisaroglu is an expert on politics and security in Europe, Africa and Central Asia. He is CEO of the consulting firm H5 Stratégies.
The European Commission and the European Parliament have both agreed to admit Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia into the Schengen agreement.
Following the publication by the Commission of favorable reports on the capacity of countries to control the external borders of the European Union by sea, air and road, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson declared that all three candidates were now ready to join the open travel zone – yet Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands signaled their disagreement.
And once again, the internal politics of some member countries threaten to obstruct European unity, neglecting the progress that has been made.
First, joining the Schengen area would boost productivity and growth in Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia – meaning the entire EU economy would benefit. All three countries are rapidly modernizing their infrastructure, while business operating costs remain relatively low and their workforces are younger and more flexible than those in Western European countries.
Meanwhile, global conglomerates leaving Russia have already started setting up operations in Romania and its co-candidate countries. And their membership would make the whole EU more attractive to these companies, bringing more jobs and opportunities to the single market at a time of deep economic crisis.
For its part, my native country, Romania, has been complying with the Schengen acquis for several years, implementing all the latest technologies in border control security, the costs of which were ultimately paid by the people Romanian, which is among the most supportive in the EU of greater integration between members.
As a frontline NATO country strategically positioned close to Ukraine and Russia, Romania’s contribution to aiding the Ukrainian resistance should not be overlooked either. The country has proven to be an invaluable partner for both the EU and NATO in combating Russian hybrid warfare and in delivering aid to Ukraine, despite this stance fueling political volatile populist in his country.
However, all this seems to be forgotten in certain major European capitals.
For example, during a recent visit to Romania, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte questioned acceptance of the country’s Schengen offer on security and justice grounds, with the Dutch Parliament subsequently vote rejection on the question.
However, against the backdrop of rampant organized crime in the Netherlands and the country’s ongoing struggle to contain gang-related homicides, including that of investigative journalist Peter de Vries in Amsterdam, in broad daylight, the country’s position risks appearing hypocritical.
It is perhaps no coincidence either that Sweden, the other country whose MPs explicitly voted against Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia’s accession to the Schengen area is currently beset by a crime wave that is also shaking up the country’s society and domestic politics.
At the same time, Austria’s record on the rule of law and corruption is also far from stellar, with the country’s prime ministers toppled by scandals and Russian money laundering sometimes making Vienna less stable than any other Eastern European EU member.
Given that Romania and Bulgaria quickly ratified Sweden’s NATO membership earlier this year, without imposing political preconditions regarding their Schengen applications in Stockholm, it stands to reason that Bucharest and Sofia will remain reliable partners for the West in the future – regardless of how the negotiations proceed. The Schengen decision is submitted to the Council of the EU.
And while it is important to note that some problems remain at ports and land crossings, both in my native Romania and in neighboring Bulgaria, they are incomparable to the serious shortcomings currently seen in major ports like Hamburg, Antwerp and Rotterdam in terms of volume of contraband. allowed to pass through – including dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine, which are currently fueling an unprecedented wave of violence across Western Europe.
Indeed, the admission of these three candidate countries into the Schengen area could lead carriers to divert some of their goods to cheaper Eastern European ports, thus making global drug centers like Rotterdam more manageable and easier to control by the authorities.
And while it is undeniable that Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia continue to face the challenges of corruption and underdevelopment, these problems could be solved just as easily, if not more, from within the zone Schengen.
Not admitting these countries on the basis of flimsy excuses, and despite the loyalty and reliability they demonstrated in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, would not only go against the EU unity would also be a strategic error that could explode Euroscepticism across the entire European Union. The sensitive east of Europe – and at the worst possible geopolitical moment.