By Cécile Barbière
(EurActiv) — Romania’s Prime Minister still wants to see his country join Schengen, despite it having an uncertain future.
“We want to join a working Schengen,” said Dacian Cioloș during a visit to Paris on 21 January.
The former European Commissioner for Agriculture was appointed on 17 November to head a technocratic government with a one year mandate. His call to open air borders seems to be the first step in integrating Bucharest into the Schengen area, an issue in which there has been little movement in recent years.
Indeed, Romania, which joined the bloc in 2007, and has the second largest land border of all the member states, has fulfilled the criteria to join Schengen since 2010. But its fellow EU countries have blocked any attempts to further proceedings on political grounds.
The reluctance of the other member states to admit Romania can partly be explained by the fact that Bucharest still receives aid from the European Commission through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, in order so that reforms to the judicial system can be carried out and so that corruption can be tackled more effectively.
Romania is in the same boat as Bulgaria, which has been excluded from Schengen on much the same grounds, although Romania has made more significant progress is reducing corruption, which the Commission has welcomed on several occasions.
“The first step in integrating Romania into Schengen could be the opening of air borders, in order to reward the progress that has been made,” said Cioloș.
“In regard to the land borders, the priority must be securing the external borders,” said the prime minister, adding that he was “concerned by all the current discussions about national borders”.
Romania, which had initially indicated opposition to the refugee relocation plan proposed by Jean-Claude Juncker, finally voted in favour of the scheme.
“But, without border and migration controls, this plan is not a solution,” warned Cioloș. “We want to be part of the solution and, unlike certain other member states, we are not content to just say no,” he concluded.
For Romania, the dialogue with Turkey, and the proposed European border force that could be mobilised without the expressed approval of the member states, are among the viable solutions.
However, tensions between member states on how to best manage the crisis are visible, particularly in the east with Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, whose governments are completely opposed to the idea of quotas.
“I think that the reaction of some countries is the result of frustrations related to a lack of involvement in the Brussels decision-making process,” added Cioloș. “In the future, we need to find mechanisms that allow all countries, even the smallest, to be involved,” he concluded.