In a Communication published on 16 November 2022, the European Commission called upon the EU Council to accept the full participation of Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia in the Schengen Area.
This implies the removal of internal border controls with these Member States, which the Commission states in the document that will make Europe safer (through reinforced protection of Schengen Area’s common external borders), more prosperous (through the elimination of time lost at borders and facilitation of people or business contacts), and more attractive (because this decision would result in the expansion of world’s largest common area without internal border controls).
The Commission argues that an enlarged Schengen Area will strengthen the European Union both internally and globally, and that the inclusion of Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia in the Schengen Area will help it reach its full potential.
But mainly, the Commission reminded the Council that these states have long met the conditions to become part of the Schengen Area and that they have a strong record of achievements related to that matter.
In fact, Bulgaria and Romania successfully completed the Schengen evaluation process in 2011. According to the Commission, they both have efficient border surveillance and systematic border checks. Additionally, they both collaborate with the international police and Europol to fight against cross-border crime, irregular migration, and human trafficking. The Schengen Information System is also well-established in both countries.
Croatia, instead, went through the Schengen evaluation process from 2016 to 2020. In 2021, it set up an Independent Monitoring Mechanism, which helps keep a check on independent human rights in border-related operations involving migrants and asylum-seekers.
Later that year, the Council confirmed that it met the conditions to become part of the Schengen Area without internal border controls.
In spite of all these the Council never lifted internal borders with Bulgaria, Romania, or Croatia. In March 2022, Bulgaria and Romania issued a Joint Declaration for this reason and invited a team of experts coordinated by the Commission to assess the application of the Schengen rules in their countries. This voluntary fact-finding mission took place in October 2022.
“The recent voluntary fact-finding mission to Bulgaria and Romania, as well as the last revisit to Croatia and its achievements concerning the monitoring of fundamental rights at the external borders, decisively confirm that these countries continue to effectively meet the rigorous Schengen standards and have proven to have a model track record of implementation [of the Schengen rules]”, it reads on the Communication. “Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia play a key role in securing our common external border and effectively contributing to a high level of security and prosperity (…). These countries have also demonstrated a high level of commitment to ensuring an effective response to the migratory pressure and related challenges”.
The Commission added that “Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia’s accession to Schengen responds to both a European promise and a legitimate expectation that membership follows when all the agreed conditions are verified and met”.
Now, the Justice and Home Affairs Council is expected to vote on the Commission’s request to allow the full participation of these countries in the Schengen Area on 8 December 2022.