Development / Politics

Schengen Accession: Romania’s roller coaster ride

Dadiana Chiran considers the difficulties faced by Romania in the process of negotiating its accesss to the Schengen area

Schengen mistress… you’ve been wicked!

2007 marks Romania’s hasty accession to the EU. It was voiced at the times that a prerequisite condition for the country’s accession was to serve as a primary hub for a US military base in the strategic Black Sea region, more precisely the units of Babadag and Kogalniceanu, which were taken over by American forces. In retrospect, the country’s political and economic struggles deem its accession to the EU a premature process.

An informal discussion between Mugur Isarescu and Romano Prodi back in 2000 contextualises Romanian pre-accession issues. Isarescu, acting governor of the National Bank of Romania, had been thrown into the prime minister’s shoes overnight and negotiated the country’s terms of accession. Following an elaborated economic exposé on Romania’s economic framework upon acceding to the EU, Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, engaged in conversation with Isarescu. Prodi reportedly told Isarescu that Romania would not be fully ready and would considerably suffer, given its premature EU integration. “If you want seven years to prepare, we will give you seven years – tell me, why 2007?” Prodi had asked. During a later interview, Mr. Isarescu laughingly acknowledged that 2007 was the year of choice, since 7 is known as a lucky number. The allegation confirms that Romania’s economic and political standards missed the European requirements by miles.

Romania’s obstinacy in throwing herself as a debutante entranced by the prospect of her first ball is plump and redundant over time.

Prodi aptly highlighted Romanian’s poor condition, prior to its accession. In terms of economic development, diplomatic management and strategic vision, the country lagged behind European democratic states. Romania is poorly represented at diplomatic level, with little or no credit given to its diplomatic representatives, who either change their minds like a weather-cock, proving incapable of compromise or common assent.

The epic story of Romania’s accession to the Schengen area resembles its process of EU accession. Romanian society is socio-politically divided, due to bureaucratic delays in the process of integration into the Schengen area. Decisions made at European level are scrutinised by Romania in terms of how, why and whether they link to the country’s attempts to access the Schengen area.

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The first report on Romania’s entry to Schengen was submitted to the European Parliament in June 2011 and passed during a plenary session, with 487 votes for, 77 against and 29 abstinences. The European Parliament played a consultative role in this instance. Although the Interior Ministers saluted the completion of the Schengen integration process for Romania and Bulgaria, at the reunion of the Council for Justice and Home Affairs in June 2011, the countries’ accession was delayed until September 2011 and extended, until further notice.

Some of the reasons invoked in the discussion were valid. The Netherlands, Romania’s main foreign investor, was the first to adamantly oppose the country’s access to Schengen, highlighting its shortcomings in dealing with anti-corruption campaigns and organised crime incidents. The former Dutch ambassador in Romania Tanya Van Gool provided a veiled explanation of the position adopted by the Netherlands: “it has not been made clear to Romania that there are more than technical elements, required for Schengen accession.”

Although less vocal in its opposition, Finland, too, vetoed Romanian accession. Its decision was primarily an act of solidarity with the Dutch, whilst reflective of growing concern in the West, where Eastern European immigration is scapegoated as a trigger for the host countries’ economic issues. By accepting smaller wages, longer working hours and consequently ‘claiming’ the jobs allocated for nationals, Romania and the West has developed a long lasting love-hate relationship. France, too, opposes Romania’s accession to Schengen, as it subscribes to the idea that Romania’s accession risks cajoling the EU system, especially given the presence of Roma minorities in France. Germany is in unison with France in this context. Scholars and commentators launched the theory that Schengen assimilation of Romania and Bulgaria will create a free immigration corridor, which is likely to increase the number of third world country immigrants’ in Germany. Recent waves of European migration reflect a different narrative, however. Immigrants are likely to find different routes into Germany, and Schengen alone does not incentivise big flows of unwanted immigrants in Europe.

In the context of the immigration crisis and the EU refugee quota debate, the internal hurly-burlies of negotiations deemed Romania an unprepared state. The Romanian representatives to the EU negociatins were neither black nor white yet both. Against all odds, the background of internal xenophobic pressure and the East-West divide on imposed refugee quotas meant that the Romanian political class failed to provide a clear statement of the country’s stand on the matter. Once again, the Schengen prize was denied to the Romanian elites, who considered the moment opportune for pushing forward the process of Schengen accession.

Visegrad countries opposing the entrance of immigrants within their national borders, most likely negotiated their position, too. In fact, Poland submitted a last minute vote on quotas, while Hungary aggressively insisted on terms it benefited from. It was the Romanian representatives who found themselves in the loser camp, by voting against the imposed quotas, only to accept them later, and commiserate themselves by dissimulating, upon their return at home, the statute of “second hand EU country”. Given Romania’s uncertain political and economic stance, France, Germany, Holland and Finland openly declared themselves against the prospect of discussing Schengen accession on the agenda of Justice and Home Affairs Council of 8-9 October 2015. Even in the context where Donald Tusk voiced support for the accession of Romania’s neighbour, Bulgaria, to the Schengen zone, no reference to Romania was made. “Simply speaking, today Bulgaria is perhaps the best example, also for other Member States, of how to protect its borders”. Romania readily accepted the decision is due to wait for another opportunity.

While certain EU member-states consider Romania ready for entering the Schengen zone, it is clear that issues within Romanian – EU dialogues have emerged in the negotiation process. Romania’s denial from entering the Schengen area is not a matter of fulfilling formalities and ticking the box, which the country has managed, to date. Lack of cooperation both from the EU and Romania’s side continues to prohibit the country from accession and Romania should carefully consider its diplomatic strategy, risks and prospects in future table discussions on Schengen.

 

Dadiana Chiran

Editor in Chief, Romania

 

 

 

 

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