Published: 09 November 2010
José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, has advised Romania to speed up efforts to reform its judiciary system and combat corruption if it wants to join the EU's border-free Schengen area. EurActiv Romaina reports.
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained on the fight against organised crime.
A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism was set up to assist both countries on judiciary matters after their EU accession. Moreover, the European Commission retained the right to use special safeguards. These allow the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions or even freeze payments of EU funds.
However, since 1 January 2010, three years after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, Brussels no longer has the power to trigger the clause.
On 13 September EU countries decided to extend monitoring of Romania and Bulgaria for another year.
Speaking to the press following a meeting with Romanian President Traian Basescu in Bucharest yesterday (8 November), Barroso said there was no legal link between Romania's EU monitoring in judiciary matters and the country's Schengen accession (see 'Background').
However, Barroso recognised that "some countries" thought that there was "a certain link" between reforms in the judicial field and achieving Schengen membership.
"The Schengen area means trust. Romania needs to convince member states that it deserves to be there," Barroso said.
In August, French State Secretary for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche said Romania could not be allowed to join the borderless Schengen area if it did nothing for the social inclusion of Roma.
A month later, Lellouche added: "It is not only the view of France. I think the implicit link made by all governments is that from the moment when the conditions required by the control mechanism are not fully met, a number of things are not feasible, including [the two countries] controlling the EU's external borders. Nobody opposed this view," Lellouche said in response to a question from EurActiv.
The Netherlands also insists that any decision regarding Romania and Bulgaria's Schengen accession should be related to their performance under the EU's Cooperation and Verification Mechanism on judiciary reforms, EurActiv Romania writes.
Barroso said Commission experts would be in Romania next week to assess the country's progress.
Romanian President Traian Basescu said he was aware that the EU's decision to allow Romania into the Schengen area must be taken by unanimity, meaning that every country would have veto powers.
However, he insisted that the criteria for joining the EU border-free area were purely technical, and that Romania had fulfilled those criteria.
'Timely' signature of border treaty
Barroso welcomed the signature of a border treaty with Moldova, which took place the same day in Bucharest.
The document was signed a few weeks before 28 November's parliamentary elections in Moldova, a country that partly shares the same language and history as Romania.
Barroso called it a "demonstration that Moldova is getting closer to the European Union".
Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi said that by signing the treaty, the two countries hoped to "discourage the obsessive allegations of some political circles in Moldova" concerning "an imaginary irredentist agenda of Romania". Moldova was part of Romania until 1940, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union.
The signature of the border treaty is also timely in view of Romania's ambitions to join Schengen in March 2011. Indeed, the border of Romania with Moldova, a former Soviet Republic, will become the external border of the European Union.