Backlash Over Schengen Veto

Austria keeps Bulgaria and Romania out of the Schengen zone

8 December 2022

Adrian Mihaltianu and Spasimir Domaradzki

Austria and the Netherlands’ vetoes over Romania’s and Bulgaria’s integration in the Schengen space are considered arbitrary in Bucharest and partially justified in Sophia.

25 to 2: The outcome of the last Justice and Home Affairs Council vote on the acceptance of Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen agreement.

Bulgarian Response

The Bulgarian Minister of Interior, Ivan Demerdzhiev, accents on the overwhelming and unconditional support from all the other member states and argues that the two blockers – Austria and the Netherlands’ veto are an extension of internal politics.

Since Borisov’s government, Bulgarian authorities argue that they are prepared to meet all the technical requirements to join the Schengen zone, suggesting that they simply deserve it.

Simultaneously, the Bulgarian authorities downplay the relevance of the Dutch and Austrian arguments, presenting them as unnecessary examples of diligence. They also refuse to see that, behind the veto, there is a shared understanding that in Bulgaria (and Romania) there is an essential problem with the rule of law that can weaken the borderless area.

Although subject to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for now already fifteen years, Bulgaria only pretended to conduct the necessary judicial reforms and fight organised crime, which practically captured the state.

The accusations raised by Austria about the stream of migrants coming from Bulgaria is not a current issue but a long-ignored aspect of the larger rule of law malfunction that brought people on the streets to protest against Borisov two years ago. While Bulgarian authorities thunder that they stay in the line for too long and that confrontation can replace cooperation in the EU, the truth is that in order to join Schengen, Bulgaria needs to do its homework.

(Un)expected Consequences for Bulgarian-Austro Relations

As a reaction to yesterday’s vote, Bulgarian officials have already stated that there will be consequences against Austria if they were to veto the accession process.

Acting Prime Minister Gala Donev threatened countermeasures on Monday, and while he did not specify what those will be, the threat level is real and will only increase as the weeks roll on.

Romanian Response

While the Romanian diplomats and high-ranking officials hoped to negotiate a last-moment change of heart, Austria’s chancellor and Interior Minister remained firm – there will be no Schengen integration for Romania and Bulgaria while the EU doesn’t take concrete measures to solve the unregistered migrant phenomenon that brought around 75,000 migrants on Austria’s soil in 2022.

The blame doesn’t fall, as usual, on the Romanian government – it successfully convinced The Netherlands and Sweden to change their stance on Romania’s accession, and it also has the full support of the European Commission. Romanian analysts and editorialists blame Austria instead, in a surge of calls for boycotting Austrian products and companies. There is widespread condemnation of Austria’s stance, from the entire political spectrum.

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Austria’s main argument that 40 per cent of the unregistered migrants that reach the country arrived through the Turkey – Bulgaria – Romania – Hungary route is dismissed both by Eurostat’s statistics and by migration experts.

The Austrian authorities couldn’t make public the study they said would support their figures.

Three Expected Developments in Romania

First, the Romanians will have to upgrade their diplomatic game both in Brussels and in the main capitals of the continent if they want to start influencing political decisions to Romania’s benefit. There’s still a notable discrepancy of representation at the highest levels of the EU’s institutions, both for Romania and Bulgaria, but also for most of the Eastern European countries; this needs to be addressed.

Second, there is the danger of fast-growing Euroscepticism as a result of Austria’s arbitrary decision. If Sweden’s and The Netherlands’ corruption-related arguments against Romania’s joining the Schengen space were partially supported by the political opposition and found some public support, Austria’s stance is viewed as totally unfair and mercantile by the entire political spectrum. Austria is the second-largest investor in Romania’s economy but is increasingly portrayed as an exploiter of Romanian resources (with large investments in the oil and banking industries), not only by the far-right sovereignist parties but also by mainstream politicians.

Third, after Hungary’s custom of using its veto to force concessions on unrelated issues, the fact that Austria starts doing the same is a worrying sign of what could lie ahead in European politics, especially in the context of systemic pressures from the war in Ukraine that will require European unity more than ever. There are already calls for a tit-for-tat response from Romania on issues that are important for Austria.

If the matter will be solved in spring 2023, there is a chance that this crisis will not lead to irreparable damage. If, however, Austria would continue its opposition to Romania’s accession, then we can expect widespread contamination on the continent in other, even more sensible issues.



A Czech translation of the article was published in Hospodářské noviny.

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