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Is West Europe threat against Romanian fitness for Schengen no more than populist self-interest?

Romania and Bulgaria are suffering pressure from north European countries to step up measures against corruption, organised crime and border control – or risk delay in being allowed into the Schengen free movement of space

February 2011 - From the Print Edition

However it is tough to disentangle whether these countries’ Governments are genuinely concerned about the local situation in Romania or whether they are exploiting graft, crime and the fear of terrorism as an excuse to appeal to the prejudices that much of their electorate has about Romania and Bulgaria.
There are legitimate reasons to question Romania’s record on anti-corruption. France and Germany see Romania and Bulgaria as as extension of their own borders, and would not tolerate corruption at the edge of their own nation. They have the right to ask Bucharest and Sofia - are there enough qualified and honest Romanian and Bulgarian personnel to police the borders of France, Germany and Holland? If the quality of the rule of law is still questioned by the European Commission in these two youngest member states of the EU, how can we trust in these nations’ security?
However the approach of western European countries on Romania and Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen zone is also cynical.
With trade and investment barriers open, Paris and Berlin have nothing to gain from the two nations’ entry into Schengen – but they do have something to lose.
A strong public perception in parts of western Europe is that Romania and Bulgaria were allowed into the EU prematurely, that they have carried out only superficial reforms to appeal to Brussels-based bureaucrats and that they export crime.
If they are allowed into Schengen, there is a populist worry that a flood of Romanian and Bulgarians, starving, hysterical, naked, will be dragging themselves through the streets of Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam armed with begging bowls, puppies, babies and accordions, each one fuelling the ire of the population and hardening the language of far right polemic.
But there is a bitter irony in France and Germany’s frustration with Romanian reform. France and Germany have both profited from Romania’s choice to join the Schengen zone over the last six years. In 2004, their joint-defence company EADS signed a long-term contract worth over one billion Euro with the Romanian Ministry of Administration and Internal Affairs to provide an integrated solution for border surveillance and security – a necessary component for Romania’s European integration ambitions.
To Bucharest, it may look as though Berlin and Paris demanded that Romania freely accept their nation’s businesses to operate in the territory of Romania to secure the borders of the EU, but in return, would not allow Romanians and Bulgarians free passage into their own countries – which was precisely the point of the deal to secure the borders in the first place.
By embarassing a Government which contains an element supportive of this reformist zeal, this request for a delay could also undermine Bucharest’s fragile but determined efforts to tackle graft. Since 2005 Romania has carried out strong efforts to boost its woeful rate on anti-corruption. Last year it oversaw the election of a new team to run the Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM) – the body which monitors the behaviour of judges and prosecutors - with a young reformist judge heading up the team, as opposed to last year - when the CSM was run by a former member of the Communist secret police. This election is now contested, but it is a step forward.
Every week, Romania’s active National Anti-Corruption Department secures the arrest of a bent civil servant or a dodgy mayor and, yes, they are finally securing prison sentences. It may not be enough, but it is progress.

Michael Bird

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