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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Schengen maddness revised, 2012

Hello and Happy New Year to everyone!

I wanted to start the new year with a positive post, but instead, it will be a short overview of the fights over the Schengen Treaty during the past year.

Many people in Western Europe probably see this issue as irrelevant and profoundly not interesting, but I claim this is just lack of perspective. Because the freedom of movement of people and goods is one of the founding principles of the EU. And the biggest harm from any mechanism for disabling this right, will be for the countries which impose it.

Why? Well, as somebody put it, in the accession contract, joining the Schengen Treaty is optional for the country that enters the Union, but not for the Union itself. The EU countries are actually obliged to accept the new country in the family so to say.  Furthermore, according to the so called EU constitution, the freedom of movement of people and goods is guaranteed for all the member-states. Which means that the Schengen Treaty is in practice completely outdated and irrelevant to the current situation. Then how come countries hold on to it, like it's the most important thing in the world? How come, the only country which opened its borders for Bulgarians and Romanians in the beginning of 2012 is...Italy? How come the EU which has approximate population of 500 millions is afraid to open its borders to Romania (appox. 20 millions) and Bulgaria (approx. 7 millions), even though, most of the Bulgarian and Romanians who wanted to work abroad are employed in Spain and not planning to relocate? The only people who could look for job in the EU now are...highly educated professionals! (because everyone else is in Spain already - according to official data approx. 1 million Romanians are in Spain currently, but I would bet they are like 2 millions or even more; and the Bulgarians in Spain are around 300 000 or more)

Yet, the EU countries are desperate to convince you that opening the borders will be devastating to their economy. Because the big bad emigrants will come and eat your lunch. Oh well.

Ok, maybe it's hard to believe you're safe in your European home, but for me the question is - is this the most important thing governments must focus on? Emigration? During a huge economical crisis, in time of extremely complicated situation for Europe and the euro, are Bugaria and Romania indeed the problem? Or they are just a way to evade the real problem. Is the corruption in Bulgaria and Romania the worst thing in Europe, if 80% of the EU member states are in huge financial mess, caused precisely by corruption, bribes, crime, abuse of public money and so on and so on. Some could call it hypocrisy, but I call it very well-measured media propaganda. And this is why it is so dangerous for Europe. Because instead of dealing with the real problem, the public attention is focused on demonized third-parties like Bulgaria and Romania. If you that doesn't ring any bells for you, I'll remind you the events during the second world war. A part of the society was demonized to hide serious economical and geopolitical problems, and as a result Europe and the world were in the middle of the worst war ever.

I'm not claiming that Bulgaria and Romania will be the reason for the next big crisis in the world, I certainly hope not. The thing is that Europe has  very serious problems. A lot of public money are missing. A lot of public services are being suspended. Many people are without job, and what's worst - without a perspective for new job. Tax-payers money are poured into banks, even tough those same banks are not public and they won't return those money to the public, ever. Basically, banks are telling governments how to act, which is not a lot better than governments telling banks how to act (i.e. China). We are in the middle of an extreme crisis of trust of the people toward their governments and only the holiday season and pure luck has saved us from BIG demonstrations and chaos. Yet, as you will find out reading trough the articles below, EU governments are having very busy time denying Bulgaria and Romania any fair chance of returning to normality. Of being part of the European Union. All that, in time when countries are questioning the need of the euro and the faith of the EU as a whole.

What's the point, you would say. The point is simple. Every challenge in our lives come in order to make us change, to make us grow and understand ourselves better. This crisis was the perfect chance for the EU member states to grow. But instead of growing, they chose to crouch in their little (or big) shells and stay there. They chose not to change, not to respond to the new situation. And that could cost them the EU. Which I still consider to be the greatest achievement for our continent. The problem is that the EU has grown, and European nations didn't grow with it. Everybody knows that current situation requires reforms and new vision of the EU, with much bigger economical and social integration of the nations, but nobody is doing anything about it. They know that there is a huge demographic crisis awaiting at our doors, yet instead of raising social benefits for mothers and stimulating employers to hire older people, they raise the retirement age hoping things will fix somehow. Well, they won't. They never did. No babies, no young adults, no workforce. It's as simple as that.

And instead of being creative and working on the problems together, as a union, nations are following Germany like little puppies, hoping that mama will do it right for them. Refusing to take responsibility and move on. That's what's bothering me. That's why I write all this. Not because for me it's so important that Bulgaria will be in the Schengen Treaty. For the moment, Bulgarians can travel freely and go anywhere they want, so this is not a big deal. The big deal is politicians use Bulgaria and Romania to scare their people, that they take the liberty to offend our governments, to preach on us about judicial system and corruption, when their nations are just as corrupted, only much more sophisticated. That they use this treaty, to black mail our governments and to set precedent for the whole Europe. Ultimately, they ruin the integration which is so important for the survival of the EU. And that's bad.

Anyway, read the articles and decide for yourself (the articles are many, but they are very seriously trimmed). After all, the EU is what we make it. And many people abandoned that responsibility time ago, when they decided it's all too complicated. It is complicated, but it's not impossible. When the people want it, they can shape the EU and the EC the way they want to. We just have to will it hard enough!

Today:
  1. France, Italy call for Schengen Treaty re-write
  2. Denmark against early Schengen enlargement too 
  3. Ministers agree on need for new EU border rules 
  4. Barroso warns Denmark on border checks 
  5. Bulgaria, Romania denied Schengen entry 
  6. Bulgaria, Romania monitoring inspires new Schengen rules 
  7. Parliament slams Commission, Council on Schengen 
  8. Germany criticises Danish border control plans 
  9. New EU members to break free from euro duty Germany opposes Commission's Schengen revamp plan
  10. Belgium complains of 'social fraud' by Eastern workers
  11. Italy opens up to Romanian, Bulgarian workers

France, Italy call for Schengen Treaty re-write

03 May 2011
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday (26 April) asked Brussels to make changes to the treaty establishing the Schengen border-free area. The proposed changes strengthen the hand of member countries and undermine the role of the European Commission.
At present, member states are only allowed to temporarily introduce  such checks in the event of a serious threat to public order. The proposed text now speaks of "exceptional difficulties".
Apparently, such a text would allow France to introduce border checks in situations such as massive influxes of Tunisian refugees or Roma from Eastern Europe.
Sarkozy told journalists yesterday that Schengen must be reformed if it is to survive.
Sarkozy also appeared to reiterate France's opposition to enlarging Schengen to the EU's most recent newcomers, Bulgaria and Romania.
source

  Denmark against early Schengen enlargement too

03 May 2011
Danish MEPs across party lines have asked their government to back France and Germany in their opposition to the early accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU's Schengen borderless area. 
Four MEPs from different political groups have signed a letter to Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, insisting that Romania and Bulgaria should not join the Schengen club before cracking down on corruption and organised crime.
Earlier this week, German MEPs Jens Rohde and Alexander Alvaro (ALDE) tabled amendments to a parliamentary report regarding Romaina and Bulgaria's Schengen accession, asking for the date 2011 to be deleted as a target date for them to join. source

Ministers agree on need for new EU border rules

Interior ministers from the 27-country bloc have agreed to change the rules of the Schengen passport-free area, seeking to clarify conditions under which national governments can reinstate border controls following a high-level spat between France and Italy.
At an extraordinary meeting in Brussels yesterday (12 May), ministers discussed the conditions under which countries should be allowed to reintroduce border controls for people travelling within the Schengen area.
The issue came to the fore after the arrival in Italy and Malta of thousands of people risking their lives to flee violence in Northern Africa.
Their arrival triggered a serious split between France and Italy after Rome issued temporary travel visas to thousands of Tunisian migrants, many of whom were heading to France. Paris responded by threatening to reintroduce checks along its south-eastern border.
source

Barroso warns Denmark on border checks

The European Commission has strongly warned against plans by Copenhagen to introduce controls at its ports and airports, the EU executive announced.
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, spokesperson to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, said on 13 May that the Commission had received an assessment from its legal services over the measures announced by Denmark to re-introduce visible border controls.
The assessment raised "doubts" as to whether the move was in line with the country's legal obligations, she stressed.
There is a clear difference between the free movement of persons and movement of goods, she stressed. While the Schengen agreement allows the re-introduction of border controls under strict conditions, re-instating customs controls of the free movement of goods is not possible under EU law, she explained.
By reintroducing border controls allegedly to fight crime, the Danish government caved in to the demands of the Danish People's Party, a populist and anti-immigration party that has been holding up approval of its 2020 economic plan. 
 source

Bulgaria, Romania denied Schengen entry

Published 09 June 2011 - Updated 10 June 2011
EU home affairs ministers are today (9 June) set to postpone enlarging the Schengen border-free area for an indefinite period, despite calls to the contrary from the European Parliament, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the EU's passport-free zone.
France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium are opposed to Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen area, despite the two countries meeting the technical requirements for accession, EurActiv has learned.
Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession is on the agenda of meetings of EU justice and interior ministers being held in Luxembourg today and tomorrow.
But ministers are expected to postpone their decision for an indefinite period, even though the European Parliament voted yesterday (8 June) to back the two countries' Schengen accession by 487 votes in favour, 77 votes against and 29 abstentions.
In a number of statements, Paris has made clear that it directly links Romania and Bulgaria's Schengen accession to their progress in fighting corruption and organised crime.
Both the Parliament and the Commission take the view that Schengen accession is an issue unrelated to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism and that the political considerations of individual countries should not overrule this legal base.
According to diplomats who asked not to be named, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is standing for reelection in May 2012, will not risk making any decisions regarding Schengen which might be exploited by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. source

Bulgaria, Romania monitoring inspires new Schengen rules

EU heads of state and government adopted a political decision to reform the Schengen passport-free travel area at the conclusion of a two-day summit in Brussels today (24 June). The new rules were compared by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the tough scrutiny imposed on Romania and Bulgaria after their EU accession.
Leaders attending the EU summit decided to step up "political guidance" on how the Schengen area is managed, stipulating that this should be done in accordance with "common standards and fundamental principles and norms".
Country-specific evaluations would be performed by groups made up of national experts from EU member states, European Commission officials and competent agencies, the document reads.  source

Parliament slams Commission, Council on Schengen
08 July 2011
The European Parliament today (7 July) overwhelmingly rejected a push by EU countries led by France and backed by the European Commission to dilute the bloc's existing border-free area by allowing individual members to re-introduce checks on an "exceptional" basis.
MEPs gathered in Strasbourg overwhelmingly voted in favour of a 'Resolution on changes to Schengen', put forward jointly by all major political groupings: the centre-right European People's Party, the Socialists & Democrats, the liberal ALDE and the Greens/EFA groups.
The Parliament states its opinion that "any new exemptions from the current rules, such as new grounds for reintroducing border controls on an 'exceptional' basis, would definitely not reinforce the Schengen system".
Instead, MEPs take the view that the existing system is sufficiently reliable, asking the Commission to table an initiative making its application more strict.
MEPs also mention that the effectiveness of the evaluation mechanism lies in the possibility of sanctions in the event that deficiencies persist and jeopardise the overall security of the Schengen area.
The new Schengen evaluation system will also make it possible to request and obtain support for its members in the event of exceptional pressure on the EU's external borders.
The Parliament also "strongly regrets" attempts "by several member states" to reintroduce border controls.
MEPs deplore the "double standards" that have blocked the accession to the Schengen space of Bulgaria and Romania. The two EU countries have met the technical criteria, but are prevented from joining the border-free area due to obstruction mainly from the Netherlands. source

Germany criticises Danish border control plans 
11 August 2011
Berlin yesterday (10 August) criticised Danish plans to build new installations on its border with Germany, saying its northern neighbour should wait for European Union clearance before starting any construction. The European Commission, which sent an inspection team to the site, said Denmark had failed to justify its new border controls and that the tighter security system currently imposed on its frontiers requires strict monitoring. source

More:
Italy 'ready to give up sovereignty' to save euro
16 September 2011
Ahead of a key eurozone meeting in Poland today (16 September), Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome was ready to relinquish "all the sovereignty necessary to create a genuine European central government" and draw a line under the euro zone's debt crisis.
In a rare federalist outing, Frattini, a former European commissioner, may have given an indication of how serious the eurozone debt crisis is perceived in Rome.
"We must work seriously towards the formation of a genuine European economic government. It is no longer sufficient to lead Europe by coming together around a table at intergovernmental level," he said, referring to the numerous EU emergency summits that have been called since the debt crisis erupted.
A growing chorus of politicians – including from the ranks of the UK Conservatives – have called on eurozone leaders to take bold steps towards greater economic and fiscal union as a way out of the debt crisis. source

New EU members to break free from euro duty
13 September 2011
Seven EU members which joined the European Union between 2004 and 2007 are concerned about an obligation to adopt the euro under the terms of their accession and could stage referenda to change their accession treaties, AFP reported, quoting diplomatic sources.
Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania said the euro zone they thought they were going to join, a monetary union, may very well end up being a very different union entailing much closer fiscal, economic and political convergence.
Before the eurozone crisis, several new members that have been close to fulfilling the Maastricht criteria to join the euro zone, including Poland and Bulgaria, had set themselves ambitious plans to speedily join the common EU currency.
More recently, several Polish officials have stated that the country has shelved its plans for early eurozone accession, until it becomes clear what future should be expected for the common EU currency.source

Germany opposes Commission's Schengen revamp plan 
13 September 2011
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich hit back forcefully against a draft plan to give the European Commission more say on when member states can reintroduce border controls in the passport-free Schengen travel area.
Under the draft EU legislation obtained by AFP, a country in the passport-free zone would be able to resume border patrols without asking for permission, but only for five days.
Beyond that, the country would have to ask the European Commission in Brussels for permission.
But Friedrich slammed the proposals, saying: "Security questions are a core competence of member states and we will not accept a transfer of this task to others or an undermining of this competence."
"We will not allow Brussels to dictate when we introduce controls. We control the borders if the security situation requires," Friedrich told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
"It is a matter for individual member states to assess the dangers to public safety," he added. source

Belgium complains of 'social fraud' by Eastern workers

 23 December 2011

Belgium has refused to open its labour market to workers from Romania and Bulgaria on the grounds that many nationals of those countries already working there cheat the social benefits system, EurActiv has learned.
Despite earlier indications to the contrary, one of the first decisions of the newly appointed Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has been to extend until the end of 2013 the restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers in Belgium.
The announcement, made by Belgian Employment Minister Monica De Coninck, is seen as a setback for Bulgaria and Romania, which had campaigned for lifting all remaining restrictions applying to their nationals in EU countries (see background).
On 25 October, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for removing restrictions applying to workers from the EU's newest members. source
My comment

Italy opens up to Romanian, Bulgarian workers

04 January 2012

Crisis-struck Italy is lifting labour market restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians while nine other EU countries are maintaining their curbs, with several citing high unemployment.
Rome decided to fully liberalise its labour market for citizens of the EU's two newest members as of 1 January, an official at the Romanian Embassy in Italy told EurActiv. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially informed Romanian and Bulgarian diplomats about its decision on 29 December. source


Spain defies Commission with Romanian worker ban - 9 July 2011 - The European Commission adopted a defensive stance yesterday (26 July), saying that Spain could introduce restrictive measures against Romanian workers "under exceptional circumstances". Last Friday, the EU executive said Spain had no legal right to impose such a ban. EurActiv Spain contributed to this article.
However, as a consequence of the crisis, Spain now has the highest unemployment rate in Europe (over 20%) and is considering imposing restrictions on its job market. As Romanian workers in Spain are more numerous, the planned restrictions do not concern Bulgaria.

Liberal MEP suggests 'second-class membership' for UK -  Andrew Duff, a British Liberal MEP and leader of the Union of European Federalists, has called for a genuine 'fiscal union' and greater EU integration, explicitly saying that opt-outs should be made possible for more Eurosceptic countries like the United Kingdom.
In a political pamphlet published today (5 September), the MEP outlines his vision for a federal Europe. He suggests the creation of a "formal second-class membership" for the UK and any other country which wishes to abstain from federalist goals in the EU's 'core' member states.
Duff argues that the practice of deciding bailouts of indebted countries at European summits has been proven ineffective and allowed "Paris and Berlin to form a directoire […] the antithesis of a federal Europe".
Instead, he calls for shifting decision-making to new European institutions through the creation a bigger European budget, an EU treasury, a European Monetary Fund and sanctions for countries lacking budget discipline.
Austria says doesn’t want Turkey as EU member-
Austria would prefer forging a special partnership between the European Union and Turkey over full EU membership for Ankara, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said today (3 May).
Macedonia's 'warrior' monument infuriates Greece - A statue of a 'warrior on horseback' resembling Alexander the Great, currently being erected in the centre of Macedonian capital Skopje, has sparked fury in Greece, which warned that Skopje was gambling with its EU membership aspirations with such provocations. - What a surprise :)  
EU's anti-corruption drive hits Bulgaria, Romania - The European Commission yesterday (6 June) unveiled its first ever proposal to address corruption at EU level. Meanwhile, pressure is growing on Bulgaria and Romania to tackle corruption and mafia crime as preconditions of their accession to the EU's Schengen borderless area. 
Dutch push for Croatia post-accession monitoring - At the two-day EU summit opening today (23 June) in Brussels, EU leaders are set to agree that Croatia's accession talks be concluded before the end of the month. However, the EU hopeful is under pressure from the Netherlands to accept post-accession monitoring until it has joined the border-free Schengen space, EurActiv has learned. - Well, if Bulgaria and Romania are under scrutiny for so long, it makes some sens to monitor Croatia as well. But I must say that I'm less and less willing for Bulgaria to enter Schengen. It simply makes no sens for me anymore. Can we move freely? Yes. Then who cares if you land in the international or local part of the airports in Europe? It's like... whatever.

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