Expansion of the Schengen Area to Include Bulgaria and Romania

Photo: flickr.com/photos/philippelemoine

Photo: flickr.com/photos/philippelemoine

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced on September 24 France’s opposition to the expansion of the Schengen area to include Bulgaria and Romania. Both countries, which entered the European Union in 2007, have officially integrated into the EU and have met all preconditions set by the Schengen agreement to become a part of this passport free area.

As of January 1, 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians will have freedom of movement. They will be enabled to cross internal borders without border checks. Previously, citizens from these two countries were allowed to live and work in a European Union country for a period of only 3 months and in a limited number of work sectors.

The issue of integration into the Schengen area coincides with the debate over the treatment of the Roma population in France. French Far Right leader Marine Le Pen warns that the circulation of Roma people in EU countries will be even greater; this liberty of movement could inaugurate more problems in French society. Le Pen’s train of thought has been well received in French communities, and support for Le Pen’s warning does not hail exclusively from the Far Right party. Other political parties are also drawing upon this argument as a political strategy in light of next year’s municipal elections in March 2014.

France is highly criticized over its standpoint. The opening of borders understandably alarms Italy and Spain, two countries with the largest Bulgarian and Romanian communities in Western Europe. The Spanish embassy in Bucharest, backed by the Italian embassy, “firmly rejects the attempt to associate Romania’s inclusion in the Schengen area with the social integration of the Roma community.” However, electoral campaign strategies, as in France, should not taint opinions of two eligible countries for integration into the Schengen area.

It is important to remember Roma people from Bulgaria and Romania represent only 25% of the entire Roma population in Europe. Amongst those who migrate to Western Europe, many are living in illegal situations. Most do not respect the maximum stay of 3 months as of now; therefore, it is unlikely that the new changes will result in an increase of the Roma population in Western Europe, despite Le Pen’s assertion.

It is true that, in the current climate, a new migrant influx will be difficult to accommodate, especially since this opportunity attracts many Bulgarians and Romanians. Tanya, originally from Bulgaria but living in the UK since 2003, provides a unique perspective and says that she has “friends and family who are preparing to leave in January. If they don’t find a job they will go back [to Bulgaria], but they want to at least try. I think it will be easier for them because they will be able to find any kind of job, not just the restricted ones.” She adds that graduates and qualified people will be the most likely to leave. If France has reasons to apprehend Bulgarians and Romanians as they integrate the Schengen area, the French should be reminded that they were criticised in 2005 over the myth of the “Polish plumber” taking over French jobs.

It seems that the real long-term issue with the integration of Bulgaria and Romania concerns international migrants over internal ones because of the countries’ critical geopolitical positions. Bulgaria has a border with Turkey, and both countries have coasts on the Black sea, which could become an alternative entry route for migrants into the Schengen area. Additionally, Bulgaria is currently hosting more than 7000 Syrian refugees. Following the disaster that happened in Lampedusa this month, it is crucial for the European Union to ensure that, if the integration occurs, Bulgaria and Romania have all the measures possible to ensure a safer control of borders and prevent other disasters.

Trackbacks

  1. […] French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced on September 24 France’s opposition to the expansion of the Schengen area to include Bulgaria and Romania. Both countries, which entered the European Union in 2007, have officially integrated into the EU and have met all preconditions set by the Schengen agreement to become a part of this passport free area. As of January 1, 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians will have freedom of movement… […]

  2. […] French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced France’s opposition to the expansion of the Schengen Area to include Bulgaria and Romania. Both countries, which entered the European Union in 2007, have officially integrated into the EU and have met all preconditions set by the Schengen Agreement to become participants in this passport free area. As of January 1, 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians will be granted freedom of movement. They will be enabled to cross internal borders without border checks. Previously, citizens from these two countries were allowed to live and work in a European Union country for a period of only 3 months and in a limited number of work sectors. Read more about France’s stance on Romania and Bulgaria integrating the Schengen area. […]

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