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Schengen shuffle: political backing alone will not be enough to help Bulgaria into the visa zone.

When it comes to joining the Schengen visa zone, real results cannot be substituted by diplomacy. That much has been the message repeated by leaders in Bulgaria and Romania, albeit with nods to the latest public expressions of support.

The centre-right European People's Party had proposed setting up a working group to address the concerns of countries known to be reluctant to admit Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said in an interview with Bulgarian National Television.

The list is France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Borissov appears to have toned down his confidence in his own personal diplomacy, for instance appearing to backtrack on earlier statements that he had intended raising the matter personally with French president Nicolas Sarkozy when the two saw each other at the European Council meeting on December 16 and 17.

In a December 18 report, Bulgarian National Radio summed up the latest list of cheerleaders for Bulgaria's Schengen bid, quoting Hungarian interior minister Shandor Pinter as saying that it was "completely possible" that Bulgaria and Romania could join Schengen in the first half of 2011, the half-year during which Hungary will have the rotating presidency of the EU.

Bulgaria has insisted that by the end of 2010, it will have met all the technical criteria for Schengen, and has asked that its application be judged on these criteria alone. The countries that are reluctant take into account European Commission assessments of Bulgaria and Romania's progress, or otherwise, in meeting EU standards in fighting corruption and organised crime.

On December 16, Romanian president Traian Basescu, speaking to journalists in Bucharest, said that his country would have to make its judicial system work properly or risk being refused admission to the Schengen zone.


Money talks

Borissov said that he could not get angry at those states who had justified concerns.

As to Bulgaria's campaign for Schengen entry, he said, "it is not about friendship but about criteria being fulfilled".

At the same time, he hit out at the presence of former communist-era State Security collaborators in the current diplomatic corps as damaging to Bulgaria's bid.

On December 17, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that 56 million leva had been made available in the Budget to finance all procedures related to securing the country's external borders.

Even though a number of EU states are backing the bids of Bulgaria and Romania, provided the two fulfil the technical criteria, it would be an unusual EU leader who did not think of the risk of having to spend extra money on securing a Schengen outer border.

Migration matters

Greece has come to symbolise the potential problem.

Frontex, the EU agency that co-ordinates the operational co-operation among EU states in the field of border security, has a special operation in Greece to help prevent the torrent of illegal immigrants crossing in from the Turkish border. (Perhaps not unhelpfully in terms of image, Bulgarians are deployed as part of the team).

On December 15, the European Commission said that it is strengthening its support to Greece in the area of migration and asylum with an additional package of 9.8 million euro for emergency needs and with teams of experts deployed in Greece to assist Athens in supporting the reform of the national asylum system.

For Cecilia Malmstrom, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, "the humanitarian situation of migrants and asylum-seekers in Greece is extremely worrying. Improving the reception facilities is very urgent. The Greek authorities are benefiting from European solidarity through a package of financial and practical assistance and I urge them to put all necessary measures in place to assist the persons in need. Greece also needs to swiftly adopt the legislation reforming its national asylum system so that a sustainable situation can be found to this emergency".

Frontex executive director Ilkka Laitinen signed a decision on December 3 authorising an extension of the Agency's deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs) to the Greek-Turkish land border.

The RABIT deployment, initiated by a request on October 24 by Greece, was provisionally planned for two months' duration from its initiation on November 2 2010. The new decision extends RABIT 2010 operation until March 3 2011.

"The first ever RABIT deployment has achieved measurable results," Laitinen said. "Detections of illegal entry at the Greek land border with Turkey had fallen by 44 per cent since October and we hope to see continued benefits from the ongoing efforts of the 26 member states involved. However, irregular immigration cannot be effectively managed with short-term solutions."

Border control was not a panacea for irregular immigration and long-term solutions needed to be sought at EU level, he said.
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Author:Leviev-Sawyer, Clive
Publication:The Sofia Echo (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Dec 23, 2010
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Next Article:Popularity polls: controversies have chipped away at support for Bulgaria's ruling party.

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