Thursday, January 13, 2011

Romania threatens to leave Francophony organisation

Angered by the attitude of France, its traditional ally, towards its bid to join Schengen, Romania is considering leaving the OIF, the International Francophony Organisation, a leading Romanian MEP told EurActiv yesterday (12 January).

BACKGROUND

Schengen is a village on the border between Luxembourg, France and Germany, where an agreement was signed in 1985 to gradually abolish checks at common borders between those countries, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Gradually, the process was taken further. In 1995, border controls were abolished between Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

Today, the Schengen border-free area consists of 25 member states: 22 EU countries (all except Bulgaria, Romania, Ireland, the UK and Cyprus) as well as three associated countries: Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Denmark has signed the Schengen agreement, but has kept its freedom not to apply certain measures.

The UK and Ireland decided to stay outside the Schengen area.

Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, remain outside the agreement due to shortcomings in their police and judicial systems. Both countries were placed under a special monitoring system, called a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.

In September 2010, EU ministers for European affairs decided to extend the monitoring for another year.


Adrian Severin, a former foreign minister and a heavyweight in the European Parliament's Socialists & Democrats group, said that Romania was considering different scenarios, depending on the reasons given for the decision that its accession to Schengen, the border-free area of the EU, will be postponed.

Diplomats have already unofficially announced that Bulgaria and Romania will not be admitted to Schengen in March, as Sofia and Bucharest had hoped.

The reason, they said, is that according to the expert report on the two countries' preparedness to join the EU border free area, Bulgaria had failed to secure its border with Turkey. "We cannot admit Romania without Bulgaria," one diplomatsaid.

Moreover, before Christmas, the French and German interior ministers, Brice Hortefeux and Thomas de Maizière, wrote a letter to EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, warning that Romania and Bulgaria lack satisfactory legal and administrative environments in the field of justice and home affairs.

The ministers argued that corruption persists at different levels, and in the case of Bulgaria, there is a consistent presence of organised crime.

When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, deficiencies still remained in their police and judicial systems. Both countries were placed under a special monitoring system, called a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).

Now, France and Germany appear to link the issue of Schengen accession to the CVM, disregarding the view of the Commission, which believes the two issues are legally unrelated. Regarding Schengen accession, Romania has reportedly almost met the technical criteria, with Bulgaria only close behind.

Two options

In this context, Severin said there were two options. The most optimistic of these would see Romania and Bulgaria told that their Schengen accession will be postponed until the autumn or the beginning of next year, by which time they would have met very clear technical requirements. Romanian would apparently not make waves about this scenario.

But there is also the option of refusing Bulgaria and Romania accession based on the arguments outlined in the joint Franco-German letter. In that case, Romania would consider a very strong response, Severin said.

The decision is expected to be announced at a 24-25 February meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers in Budapest.

The Romanian MEP explained that if his country were denied Schengen accession as a result of corruption, it would prompt a very long delay. Indeed, French experts would always be able to claim that corruption in Romania persists, he added.

In such a case, despite the fact that the Romanians are a Latin people, many of them speak or understand French and the country is bound by a century and a half of friendship with France, Severin said Bucharest would leave the OIF, sending a strong message to Paris.

Although he is in opposition, the Romanian MEP appeared to be passing on an official message, as in his words, the Schengen case was a test case for the kind of relationship his country will have with the rest of the EU in the long term.

In Severin's words, Romania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of which he was in charge in 1996-1997, had concluded that the country would never be taken seriously in the EU until it used its veto on issues of major importance.

According to an EU diplomat who asked not to be named, it is not surprising that Bucharest is issuing warnings ahead of the EU's decision. Apparently, the Hungarian EU Presidency was sympathetic to Sofia and Bucharest, he added.

Bulgaria is also a member of the OIF. However, the Bulgarian tactics with respect to Schengen accession are of appeasement vis-à-vis Paris and Berlin, not of defiance. Severin said Bucharest was disappointed by Sofia's attitude, but indicated that this was not a big issue for his country.

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