June 23. 2024. 1:55

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MEPs from Bulgaria, Romania plan joint Schengen roadshow

Members of the European Parliament from Bulgaria and Romania will organise a roadshow supporting their countries’ accession to the Schengen border-free space in the following months, according to an announcement on Thursday (6 April) at a conference in Sofia.

Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk, co-president of the pan-European ALDE Party, and his Romanian colleague Vlad Botoș from Renew Europe said the two countries should stick together in their ambition to join Schengen and that they were preparing joint initiatives to highlight the importance of accession.

“Vlad and i have an idea to hold a big conference about Schengen. One day to be in Bulgaria, the next in Romania,” Kyuchyuk said.

Both were speakers at the conference “Bulgaria and Romania – European integration the hard way?” held at Sofia’s House of Europe, organised by EURACTIV Bulgaria with the support of the ALDE Party.

The roadshow campaign, the MEPs said, will include public discussions and conferences in various cities in Bulgaria and Romania, aiming better to connect regions on both sides of the border.

Last December, Austria and the Netherlands blocked Bulgaria’s entry into Schengen, while Romania was stopped only by an Austrian veto. This development led to speculations of a possible separation of Romania from Bulgaria, with Romania joining at some point in the future ahead of Bulgaria, which would have to wait a long time. Up to now, the authorities in Bucharest say they do not want a Schengen border along the Danube.

The two MEPs, however, aim at both countries’ Schengen accession in the fall of 2023 and argue that separation would cause severe economic and political wounds.

“The sign that these conferences will give will be purely political, that municipalities from one side can work with municipalities from the other side,” said Kyuchyuk. He admitted that the lack of a stable government does not help Bulgaria for Schengen because the EU partners have no interlocutor in Sofia about longer-term commitments.

Botoș noted that Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU and should stick together. He said the countries needed to abandon the mentality of being at the bottom of EU rankings because this was fueling Euroscepticism.

“The Danube River is not only a physical border, but it is also a cultural border. We need to build bridges – cultural bridges. We should stick together”, said Botoș, adding, “We entered the EU together. We will enter together in Schengen”.

In response to a question about arising bilateral problems between Bulgaria and Romania, namely the revocation of the license of the Bulgarian insurance company Euroins Romania, the Romanian MEP said that the two countries should behave maturely. He said that his party USR had demanded the resignation of Romanian financial regulator ASF members because of the many bankruptcies of major insurance companies in recent years.

OECD membership

Deputy Prime Minister for the management of European funds Atanas Pekanov, a keynote speaker, also argued that Bulgaria and Romania should stick together on the road to Schengen but emphasised his country’s ambition to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“Joining Schengen, the euro area and OECD – these should be our priorities, which should happen as soon as possible, said Pekanov. He explained that these priorities are not an abstract concept, they are what will catalyse the reforms, which would help Bulgaria catch up with more developed EU members.

“Joining the EU in the first years provided a push for reforms in Bulgaria”, Pekanov said, adding that joining the OECD would do the same.

Among all EU members, only Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Malta and Cyprus are not OECD members.

‘Bulgaria fell asleep’

“We entered the EU and fell asleep,” commented Gergana Passy, the Bulgarian minister of European affairs after the country joined the EU in 2007. She pointed out that in terms of reforms, Bulgaria entered hibernation mode and lamented the lack of public awareness campaigns.

“What is this public campaign that the Bulgarian government has started and finished since 2009 until now? Have we had a public campaign for Schengen, for the eurozone or for any big goal that we want to achieve as an EU member state?” she asked.

Passy said that the Bulgarian authorities are lying to the Bulgarian public that the country can extend the life of its polluting coal plants while Sofia is missing billions of investments under the Green Deal.

“The pendulum of populism has swung so hard to one side that I don’t know what it will hit when it comes back,” Passy said. She argued that Romania is currently ahead of Bulgaria in many areas, but it is “strategically correct” for the two countries to move together.

New friends needed

MEP from Spain Eva-Maria Poptcheva, of Bulgarian origin, said that the Bulgarian institutions should not waste time making an information campaign to adopt the euro because all the arguments against the common currency are “absurd and easy to refute”.

She said that Bulgaria should seek rapprochement with the countries of southern Europe because, in her words, it had clear common interests with Spain, Portugal and Greece on critical issues of migration, economy and state subsidies.

Kyuchyuk agreed that Sofia should look for its friends in the EU and argued that Poptcheva should be regarded as a member of the Bulgarian delegation in the European Parliament, which he said would highlight the close ties with Spain.

Regional disparities

In her video address to the conference, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms Elisa Ferreira reminded that Bulgaria should invest in education and reduce the differences between Sofia and the rest of the country’s regions.

The main priority for the authorities in Sofia remains the green transition and the public administration reform, said the Commissioner.

Ferreira argued that Bulgaria is successfully integrated into the EU. Since accession, Bulgaria’s GDP income per capita increased from 39% of the average in the EU to 57% in 2021, calling this “a tremendous achievement”. She, however, acknowledged the significant differences between big cities and the rest of the country and further disparities between regions.