Bulgaria and Romania, the European Union’s two newest members, were denied entry into Schengen zone, Europe’s visa-free travel area, on Thursday, Sept. 22.
In order to enter the Schengen, Bulgaria and Romania had to get the approval of all 25 EU members, but the Netherlands and Finland publicly opposed them. The two countries claimed that Bulgaria and Romania did not meet the requirements in the fight against corruption and organized crime.
Gerd Leers, the Dutch Immigration Minister, said he does not want to regret the decision later. However, as Robert Castle, a Balkan scholar and Instructor of Political Science at AUBG, said, “The visibility of certain kinds of crimes (in Bulgaria and Romania) is higher; it is easy to see the fruits of corruption and unclean money and business practices, but that does not mean that it does not exist in the other countries.”
The two Balkan countries also made a huge progress in the fight against the organized crime, according to Polish Interior Minister Jerzy Miller.
The Dutch and Finnish governments express their worries about Bulgaria and Romania not being able to secure the collective external borders. But since the Netherlands and Finland have attractive social benefits and are among the countries with respectively cheap health care, they are more likely to be afraid of the flow of illegal immigrants than of insecure borders.
According to the BBC website, on June 8, 2011, just a day after the European parliament voted to let Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen, the Dutch Immigration Minister Gerd Leers announced that the Netherlands planned to delay any decision regarding Bulgaria and Romania entering Schengen zone until next year.
As a result, three days after, the Bulgarian daily newspaper 24 Chasa (24 Hours) recalled the events of 2006 when Leers, being the mayor of Maastricht, the Netherlands, bought land on the Black Sea in Bulgaria for €200,000 for a villa project. The villa turned out to not be registered in Leers’ name, and in May 2009 Leers sued the development company. Leers won the case, but was accused of confusing his public and private interests and of “using his position as mayor to influence the development project, particularly by involving the Bulgarian ambassador to the Netherlands,” according to http://DutchNews.nl. The majority of the city council said they had lost their confidence in him and Leers resigned.
No one knows whether Leers was capable to persuade the Dutch government that Bulgaria is not ready to enter Schengen because this is his personal revenge after 2009 or because the two Balkan countries still need to make progress. The bottom line is that Bulgaria and Romania were promised to join the Schengen after they entered EU in 2007, but they are not in the travel-free area yet. Therefore, AUBG international students, who are obligated to get the Bulgarian ID card in order to legally stay in the country, cannot fully enjoy Bulgaria’s membership in the EU and travel freely throughout Europe.