Schengen: Let Romania and Bulgaria join EU's borderless area, say MEPs

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By Christopher Pitchers
In the photo taken Thursday Jan. 20, 2011 Bulgarian border police patrol the green-border near Kapitan Andreevo border crossing point between Bulgaria and Turkey.
In the photo taken Thursday Jan. 20, 2011 Bulgarian border police patrol the green-border near Kapitan Andreevo border crossing point between Bulgaria and Turkey.   -   Copyright  Valentina Petrova/AP2011

The European Parliament has urged EU countries to allow Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen free-travel area as soon as possible.

Both have been members of the EU for 15 years now, but remain outside the passport-free zone due to being blocked at a political level.

On Tuesday, MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back Bucharest and Sofia's bid to join Schengen, with 547 votes in favour, 49 votes against, and 43 abstaining.

European lawmakers argue that maintaining internal EU border controls is discriminatory and impacts people and workers' lives.

According to Dragoș Tudorache, a Romanian MEP & former interior minister, the two countries have already met the necessary conditions.

"As far as Schengen criteria is concerned, the two countries are prepared to join, which is something that also here in Parliament we've been saying across these years through all of the resolutions that we've put forward," he told Euronews. 

"The issue has been, for all of this time, blocked at the political level, and that's where the effort right now needs to be done. 

"And based also on the debate that we had in Parliament and the political signals that are going to pass, are that the (EU) Council in December will finally achieve this important milestone in the evolution of Schengen policy."

The decision is non-binding, but adds pressure on EU countries to welcome the two states into the fold.

The bloc's interior ministers will vote on the matter in December. If passed, all physical checks at Romania and Bulgaria's internal borders could be gone as early as 2023.

Not every country is in agreement though. The Dutch have previously expressed reservations about the two countries joining Schengen, but deny outright opposition.

"The Netherlands does not oppose Romania’s accession to Schengen, but we must do it in a transparent and fair manner," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. 

"There needs to be enough positive steps taken, and the rule of law needs to be structurally improved."

Some political groups in the European Parliament also do not want Romania and Bulgaria to join the free-travel zone yet.

Patricia Chagnon, an MEP from Marine Le Pen's National Rally party and the Identity and Democracy Group, told Euronews that more assurances are needed on border protection before agreeing to any new Schengen members.

"We have seen over the past years that European external borders are not being protected, so our concern is with security within the Schengen area," Chagnon explained. "So, we want to wait and we want to have insurance - before having any more additions - that we can actually protect our external borders."

Schengen enlargement requires unanimity between EU countries when they vote on the issue, meaning any disagreement between them would be decisive.

Currently, all 27 EU states except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania are part of the borderless zone, with four non-EU states - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein - also party to it.