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article imageOp-Ed: Stepping into Schengen — Solidarity with Romania and Bulgaria Special

By Raluca Besliu     Apr 17, 2013 in Politics
In response to the March 2013 decision to postpone Romania and Bulgaria entry in the visa-free Schengen zone under the threat of a German veto, a young group of people has decided to launch a solidarity initiative with Romanian and Bulgarian citizens.
The aim of the initiative, called Stepping into Schengen, is to ensure Romania and Bulgaria's acceptance as soon as possible. The initiative is currently focused on raising awareness about the reasons behind the postponement decision and subsequent news on the topic as well as about the Schengen Agreement itself and what membership actually entails.
Discussing the reasons for launching the project, one of its leaders, Amelia Gheorghita, stressed: "Schengen as a topic is huge and it affects directly and indirectly many countries and its citizens. Still a dense fog surrounds it and many decisions are confusing and not transparent. I think in the democracy we are all aiming at, decisions should have the property of being questioned, properly explained and understood. When this doesn’t happen, one should take a stand."
The decision to focus the project specifically on Romania and Bulgaria, which made their first Schengen bid in 2011, stems from the fact that the reason behind the postponement was motivated more by political criteria than by the two countries’ failure to meet required entry standards.
German Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich invoked as main reasons for the entry's delay on-going corruption and judicial problems in the two Eastern European countries: "Our citizens will only accept an expansion of the Schengen area if some fundamental conditions have been met. This is not yet the case."
Ironically, based on the wildly subjective criteria mentioned by the German Minister of Interior, some of the existing Schengen members should have never entered. These are not, however, the key criteria based on which the Schengen entry decision have to be made. Rather, it is technical issues, such as police cooperation and personal data protection, that play a great role.
As the Hungarian Ambassador to Romania, Fuzes Oszkar, emphasized: "If you read the rules, Romania ticked all the boxes to join Schengen." In fact, Romania and Bulgaria have substantially invested in securing their borders, so as to fill all the key technical criteria and be admitted.
The Hungarian Ambassador added: "The rest is politics, just political criteria."
Indeed, 2013 is an electoral year in several European countries. Italy also held Parliamentary elections in April 2013, immediately after the March Schengen discussions. In September 2013, Germany will be holding federal elections and politicians currently striving more than ever to please their populations and attract their electoral benevolence. Speculating popular fears of immigrants, particularly in a time of profound economic crisis, and demonstrating their personal ability to prevent them from "invading" the national space looks good on an ambitious politicians' resume.
In fact, German Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich revealed his concern that, after Romania and Bulgaria's acceptance, a wave of impoverished people, particularly Roma as well as non-EU citizens making their way from or via the two Eastern European countries, could migrate to Germany in search of better social service.
This is merely speculation of the popular fear of the "poor immigrant invasion," coming to steal jobs and benefits from the receiving society. It was nevertheless enough for Germany to pronounce, with Finland's backing, its decision to invoke the veto in the consensus body and enough to prevent other member countries from arguing against the necessity to invoke the veto.
Focusing on the Schengen situation has previously been used as diversion tactic by other high-level European politicians, including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to distract their national public opinion from sensitive, more difficult to solve domestic problems.
Allowing such an unjust decision taken against the two European countries to pass without protesting against it would mean complacently approving it and would set a dangerous precedent regarding other countries’ accession to the Schengen Area. The most powerful form of protest is demonstrating that many of the very citizens that the German diplomat makes reference to not only would not mind Romania and Bulgaria’s entry in Schengen, but would, in fact, support it.
At the same time, another key goal for the Stepping into Schengen campaign is to ensure that the Schengen decision-makers abide by established entry criteria in a transparent manner, not by any alternative motives, including the political ones, which have previously interfered so often. Simultaneously, the campaign aims to suggest the need to change the voting regulations from consensus to the simple majority vote, given that the existence of the veto stifles true dialogue regarding countries’ accession and the development of contrary opinions. In the March discussion, Romania and Bulgaria had several countries which had announced their support for their bid, including Austria, Hungary and Greece, but the prospect of the German veto rendered that support almost futile.
One of the group leaders, Eltaj Muradli, stresses that the ultimate goal is to get Romania and Bulgaria in Schengen as soon as possible. Adding to his colleagues’ point, Maria Vorotilina, emphasizes that, on the long-term "the project will be the beginning of a bigger project will include more countries interested in joining the Schengen." For the moment, while the platform is still being build, Amelia reveals that the campaign’s focus is 'informing people about what Schengen is or what it is supposed to be" and highlighting the real reasons behind it.
The more people join the campaign, the stronger and more efficient it will be and the quicker the greater, more ambitious goals will be achieved. Amelia emphasized that anyone standing for transparency, equality and tolerance should join and actively support Stepping into Schengen, whose Facebook page you can access here:
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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