The European Parliament said Romania and Bulgaria have met the conditions to join the Schengen area and enjoy borderless travel in most of the European Union.
The Strasbourg-based assembly voted for the two Black Sea countries admission with 487 to 77 votes with 29 abstentions, the Parliament said in a statement today. Its decision will be passed on to EU justice and home affairs ministers meeting tomorrow in Luxembourg.
The two EU newcomers aspire to join eight other former communist countries that becameSchengen members in 2007, as the world’s biggest trading bloc expands its influence. Their bid coincides with discussions in France and Denmark to reintroduce passport checks at their borders on concerns about an influx of North African migrants through Italy.
“Illegal migration makes Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece one of the EU’s most sensitive external border areas,” the statement said.
Countries hoping to join in the Schengen system, named for the Luxembourg village where the border-free plans were hatched in 1985, need the unanimous endorsement of those already in, based on an assessment by the European Commission, the EU’s Brussels-based executive arm.
The Parliament urged Bulgaria “to take additional measures, including a special action plan” to be implemented, when it joins Schengen, together with Greece and Turkey to cope with a possible surge in migration pressure, the statement said.
Some countries such as the Netherlands, France and Germany have said the two countries must “ensure the rule of law” and do more to overcome corruption and organized crime before joining Schengen. Meeting the technical criteria was not enough, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Knapen said in Sofia on May 12.
“Bulgaria and Romania have met all the conditions to gain Schengen rights,” the Bulgarian government said in a statement today. “We have introduced the best practices investing enormous amount of energy and significant financial resources. Any delays in taking the respective decision would diverge from the established rules and create a precedent in regard to previous enlargements.”
EU’s Commission will in July issue its regular monitoring report assessing Bulgaria’s andRomania’s efforts at fighting crime and corruption, which will enable the countries opposing their entry to make a decision.
“We’re waiting for a positive signal from tomorrow’s discussions of the Justice and Home Affairs Council and for a more specific timetable for our Schengen entry this year,” Romanian Interior Minister Traian Igas said in an e-mail today.
The two former Soviet bloc countries spent about 1.16 billion euros ($1.69 billion) to beef up their border police and equip them with patrol boats, helicopters, scanners and night- vision cameras to ensure security of borders with Turkey, Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine and a joint stretch of the Black Sea coast.
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