Friday, January 16, 2009

Bulgaria, Romania optimistic about being ready for Schengen – but Schengen may not be ready for them

The Sofia Echo

Just two days after Bulgaria and Romania expressed optimism about their preparations to join Europe’s Schengen visa zone, it emerged that Schengen’s planned new security database is so far behind schedule that it may not be technically possible to admit the new entrants.

Bulgaria and Romania are not alone in their aspirations to join the zone, with other countries in South Eastern Europe including Serbia also queueing up. Schengen includes all EU states, except Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as non-EU states Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

On January 13 2009, Bulgarian Deputy Interior Minister Kalin Slavov and the head of Romania’s directorate-general for Schengen Trifan Florea-Tiberiu told a joint news conference in Rousse that there was “no reason” to delay beyond March 2011 the two countries’ entry to Schengen.

The two met in Rousse to co-ordinate the work that the two neighbours, which joined the European Union in January 2007, must do to be ready for Schengen, according to a report by Bulgarian news agency BTA.

Florea-Tiberiu said that Romania already had started issuing passports with biometric data in a pilot project in Bucharest and planned to introduce them nation-wide in the next
six months.

In Bulgaria, February 28 2009 was the deadline for selecting a company that will produce Bulgaria’s passports incorporating biometric data, Savov said.

On January 6, Bulgaria submitted to the EU Council’s Schengen evaluation working group its answers to a questionnaire on the country’s preparations, Bulgarian National Radio reported.

Submitting the questionnaire marked the end of the first stage of the inspections on the implementation of the criteria for accession to the Schengen area for Bulgaria, the Foreign Ministry said.

In 2009 there will be reviews of personal data protection, police co-operation, visa issuance, as well as borders and the Schengen information system.

But on January 15 2009, international news agencies reported that plans to create a vast new security database for Schengen had run into major technical, financial and legal problems.

Reporting from a meeting of EU interior ministers in Prague, DPA and AFP said that the plan for the new database was so far behind schedule that a crisis was looming.

"It's obvious that we cannot fulfil the schedule on the Schengen Information System II (SIS II), we couldn't start the global testing... It's one of the most important problems, one of the biggest issues and projects in the field of security," said Czech interior minister Ivan Langer. The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

SIS II was originally due to be running in 2007 but has been plagued by technical and legal problems.

AFP said that the setback could pose problems for the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen, while the UK – which is not part of the Schengen zone – was concerned that it might hamper workers trying to come to London to prepare for the Olympic Games there in 2012.

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