Bulgaria and Romania joining Schengen is a matter of European unity and fairness

by Cristian Florescu

In all honesty, labelling things as they are, the continued exclusion of Bulgaria and Romania from the Schengen passport-free area tends to bolster anti-EU propaganda and weaken the EU’s influence and values internationally. Ilhan Kyuchyuk, a Bulgarian Member of the European Parliament, expresses this in his writing.

Growing up in a communist regime, I have vivid memories of how the fall of the Berlin Wall brought a sense of freedom and unity to many Eastern Europeans. This was especially true for the older generations, who had spent their entire lives confined by closed borders. It was a promise that seemed fulfilled when Bulgaria, my country, became a member of NATO and took steps towards joining the European Union. This was a long-awaited dream, as we yearned to be reunited with our fellow Europeans. However, the ongoing exclusion of certain member states from the Schengen Area undermines the very principles on which the EU was established. It has left some European citizens feeling like they are treated as second-class members of this Union.

One concern that is frequently raised is the apprehension that individuals from new member states might possibly burden the welfare systems of other member states. However, it is important to note that such concerns are based on isolated incidents that do not reflect the overall community. It is advisable to establish regulatory frameworks in order to prevent any potential abuse, and it is crucial to closely monitor strict compliance with these rules.

Another argument in favor of Schengen accession is the potential exacerbation of housing problems in certain areas due to increased population density. It is crucial to clarify that Schengen primarily aims to facilitate free movement for travel and work, rather than promoting mass relocations.

The recent votes in the European Parliament have highlighted the pressing nature of this issue. With a significant majority, members of the European Parliament have strongly advocated for Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to Schengen by the end of 2023. These countries have fulfilled the necessary criteria for quite some time now, and we are perplexed by the decision of certain countries to reject their membership without presenting any valid legal reasons. This exclusion goes beyond mere symbolism; it represents the final barrier preventing full European unity for Bulgaria and Romania, and it also creates tangible burdens for businesses and citizens, exacerbating social and economic inequalities.

As an illustration, travel and trade experience hindrances due to delays that can last for hours or even days, in contrast to the mere 10-minute wait typically encountered within the Schengen Area. This presents a significant challenge for truck drivers, as it not only affects their livelihoods but also contributes to a notable increase of 46,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. This environmental consequence contradicts our shared climate objectives.

To put it frankly, the continued exclusion only contributes to the promotion of anti-EU propaganda and weakens the EU’s influence and values internationally.

There are legitimate concerns regarding certain countries’ capacity to efficiently handle their borders, especially in terms of processing asylum seekers and addressing corruption. However, it is important to acknowledge that these challenges are not exclusive to any specific country. The current migration numbers clearly demonstrate that no single country can tackle this issue in isolation.

However, the positive aspect is that Europe possesses the necessary expertise to offer assistance. Through collaboration and the combining of our expertise in border protection, we have the ability to expedite our preparedness at any location where the EU shares external borders. By enhancing training, sharing technology, and conducting joint operations, we can greatly enhance our collective capabilities. This approach not only addresses any operational deficiencies but also serves as a collaborative tool to combat corruption and smuggling – issues that are not exclusive to Bulgaria or Romania, but rather Europe-wide problems that necessitate European solutions.

Schengen is not just a political matter; it holds significant importance for individuals. It pertains to students aspiring to study abroad, entrepreneurs and cross-border workers in search of opportunities, and families desiring the freedom to travel without restrictions. It represents the liberation from physical barriers and the ability to fully embrace the European identity.

As we look ahead to important meetings in the upcoming months, it is important for us to consider whether we aspire to have a two-tier European Union or a harmonious, inclusive community. The fundamental values that underpin the EU, such as freedom, equality, and the rule of law, compel us to take decisive action.

The clock is ticking, and it is important for us to fulfill our responsibility towards ourselves and future generations by ensuring that no one is left behind in the European promise of freedom and unity.

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