December 11. 2023. 11:36

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Bulgaria will not wage diplomatic war over Schengen

Bulgaria will not play hardball with Austria and the Netherlands, which are blocking its accession to Schengen, but will try soft diplomacy and political pressure in Brussels to overcome the veto, several sources in Sofia told Euractiv.

The Bulgarian government hopes that if the Netherlands can be convinced Bulgaria is continuing its efforts to implement the rule of law, Austria might relent – a scenario it says is unlikely if the Dutch socialists win the election in October and possible if the right wing around acting Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is convinced about judicial reform in the country.

“In recent months, Bulgaria has implemented several reforms aimed at ensuring the rule of law and fighting corruption. Difficult reforms have been delayed for years. These efforts must continue,” Nadezhda Yordanova, a former justice minister and now an MEP for PP-DB, part of the ruling coalition, told Euractiv.

Bulgaria has threatened to take Austria to the EU Court of Justice if it is again denied entry to the Schengen area and recently blocked Austria’s participation in NATO, but Bulgaria’s efforts will focus on convincing partners.

In December last year, the caretaker government of President Rumen Radev made Schengen its top foreign policy priority, but the country’s political crisis made it impossible to secure the support of European political groups and contributed to the vetoes by the Netherlands and Austria.

President Radev initially declared that Bulgaria would play hardball with The Hague and Vienna, but this position was quickly softened. The new government, backed by a pro-EU majority in parliament, has also refused to adopt a tough stance to overturn the veto.

Asked by Euractiv what diplomatic steps would be taken to convince Austria to lift its veto on Schengen, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said that “bilateral cooperation with Austria is based on the conclusions of the two countries’ action plan against illegal migration at the level of the interior ministries”.

“The Commission and European agencies are also committed to implementing this plan,” the position says.

Since the start of 2023, Bulgaria has prevented more than 131,000 attempts by migrants to cross the EU border irregularly. Border police say this is 49% more than in the same period last year.

The leading Bulgarian argument is that if border controls between Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania are abolished, efforts will be concentrated on controlling the EU’s external border with Turkey.

Kiril Petkov, chairman of the parliamentary European Affairs Committee and former prime minister, says the newly adopted anti-corruption law is “Bulgaria’s key to Schengen and the real fight against corruption”.

“In Bulgaria, we understand that we have to convince our partners that we are effectively applying European legislation and effectively fighting corruption because corruption is a risk that ultimately threatens the security of us all. We have to speak openly and act pragmatically,” said Yordanova.

“One of the big questions for Bulgaria is whether the Bulgarian parliament will be able to implement reforms in the judicial system. They can only become a reality with changes to the constitution. On 7 December, the last train will leave for the European Council meeting on Schengen,” said Vesela Cherneva, vice-president of the European Council for Foreign Affairs.

A new rejection of Bulgaria’s bid to join Schengen could have serious domestic political repercussions. Not only would the pro-European parties likely lose their current strong support among voters, but it could also strengthen the negative campaign against the EU by the pro-Russian Vazrazhdane party and the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

(Emiliya Milcheva, Krassen Nikolov |

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