Finland and The Netherlands keep Romania and Bulgaria out of Schengen
The interior ministers of Finland and The Netherlands found themselves targets of anger in the EU quarters of Brussels on Thursday when the countries voiced their opposition to the enlargement of the Schengen zone to include Romania and Bulgaria.
The other EU countries accused the two of making up new rules and going against European values. The strongest language came from Minister of the Interior Jerzy Miller of Poland, the current holder of the EU Presidency, who said that Romania and Bulgaria have met the Schengen conditions, and that it is therefore not right to deny the countries membership.
“Trust on both sides also means keeping promises. This promise has been broken”, Miller said.
The opposition of the Finns and the Dutch was enough to torpedo the Schengen membership of the two countries, as decisions of such magnitude require consensus.
The ministers discussed the matter extensively in Brussels on Thursday. Romania’s Minister of the Interior Traian Igas told Romanian journalists that the Finnish and Dutch ministers appeared flustered when they had to voice their own stand after hearing 19 statements supporting the extension of the Schengen zone to Romania and Bulgaria.
Finnish Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen (Christ. Dem.) had a different impression of the situation. “The atmosphere was businesslike and positive. I have not felt pressure at any point – not before the meeting and not during the meeting.”
According to Räsänen Finland recognises that the new member states have technically met the Schengen criteria. However, she feels that membership cannot be granted until Romania and Bulgaria do more to weed out corruption and organised crime, and to develop their legal systems.
Poland had proposed that the countries should have been allowed into the free movement zone in stages, so that border inspections would first be eliminated at airports and seaports, and only later on land borders.
Finland’s view came as a surprise to Bulgaria. Last week the feeling was that only the Dutch would cause any problems.
Bulgaria’s Minister of the Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that Bulgaria and Romania were “victims of nationalism”, and indicated that the move by Finland and The Netherlands was based on the domestic problems of the two countries.
Joseph Daul, the chairman of the largest political group in the European Parliament, the centre-right EPP, also accused Finland and The Netherlands of populism.
Interior Minister Räsänen denies the accusations. She says that Finland has been consistent in its policies.
“This decision has nothing to do with Finland’s domestic situation or, as has been suggested in some quarters, that the strong position of the True Finns party would have an influence on this. It certainly does not.”
There were accusations that the Finns and the Dutch had been making up new rules as the process moved forward.
The Bulgarian Interior Minister compared the situation with that of a teacher and a pupil, with the teacher keeping the pupil behind even though he has passed all the tests.
Sweden’s Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask was also not convinced by Finland’s explanations.
“I hope that Finland will find a way to change its mind. Finland is a sister or brother to Sweden, so I would not say anything bad about it. But there is always room for discussions in a family”, Ask said to Helsingin Sanomat.
Bulgaria’s Tsvetan Tsvetanov did not want to speculate on the impact of the dispute on Finland’s reputation. Finland has already pushed itself into a tight spot over its demands for collateral in return for loan guarantees for Greece.
“We all joined the EU in order to be together, and to find compromises in important matters”, Tsvetanov said.
Romania’s Traian Igas suggested that the Finns and Dutch check the situation on Rumania’s borders, and reiterated that he is ready for discussions on the matter.
Bulgaria especially would like to have EU leaders take up the matter at the next summit in October. The countries will try to persuade the Finns and the Dutch to change their minds before that.
However, Räsänen says that the first possible opportunity for new decisions on the matter will not emerge before the spring.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finland joins Netherlands in opposing Romanian and Bulgarian entry to Schengen (22.9.2011)
Schengen Area (Wikipedia)