Emil Radev: Bulgaria should be monitored separately from Romania

The latest developments there negatively affect the image of our country

The political support for our Schengen accession has been voiced many times. As long as six or seven years ago we met all technical accession requirements, and ever since the European Commission has repeatedly suggested that Bulgaria should join the Schengen area. But still some Member States refuse to put the observance of European laws and rules above the internal political pressure they experience.

Mr Radev, several days ago there appeared publications saying that Croatia expects to meet the technical criteria for Schengen area accession by the end of the current year and hopes to join it before 2020. Does it come as a surprise to you and could Croatia get ahead of Bulgaria?

After Croatia joined the European Union it started working towards the implementation of the necessary EU acquis with a view to entering the Schengen area. By today, the country has met the major part of the technical criteria for accession, such as personal data protection, for instance, and as of last year Croatia gained access to the Schengen Information System and is now using it. However, the work has not been completed. Part of the criteria that Croatia is yet to meet are related to ensuring security at its border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially having in mind that many migrants from the Middle East enter the country illegally crossing exactly this border. Besides, Croatia has to pursue the training of police and border patrol officers and introduction of European measures in police interoperability, readmission of migrants, visa policy and cooperation between judicial services in the field of criminal law. After the country takes the required measures and passes the necessary legislation, the assessment by the European Commission concerning the fulfilment of all technical criteria will follow. If the assessment is positive, the European Commission will propose to the EU Council to take a decision on Croatia's accession to the Schengen area.

The state leadership of Croatia hopes that this decision will be taken before 2020, especially with regard to the fact that by that time Croatia is supposed to take over the rotating EU presidency. Whether this will happen, however, depends, on the one hand, on Croatia itself, i.e. on its ability to meet all the criteria before end-year and get a positive assessment by the European Commission. On the other hand, an approval by the EU Council is needed which, as we know from the Bulgarian experience, is not so easy to receive and, regrettably, often depends on the internal political situation in the states that have to take the decision.

Bulgaria's Schengen entry by and large gains support, many politicians underscore that the country is doing a good job safeguarding EU's outer borders; nevertheless, we cannot jump through this hoop as of yet. Why so?

Actually the political support for our Schengen accession has been voiced many times. As long as six or seven years ago we met all technical accession requirements, and ever since the European Commission has repeatedly suggested that Bulgaria should join the Schengen area. Our country has garnered support of President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Council Donald Tusk and President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, as well as the wide support of the European Parliament, which as early as 2011 came up with a resolution that greenlighted the entry of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen. The problem, though, is lack of political will in some of the Member States which refuse to put the observance of European laws and rules above the internal political pressure they experience. The European rules are clear-cut: if a country meets all legally set technical criteria, a positive decision on its Schengen area accession is to be taken. What we witness, though, is that owing to the political situation at home and pressure on the part of the far-right parties some governments (for instance that of the Netherlands) impose additional requirements as a condition for our Schengen entry. I find it inadmissible. The rules should be uniform for all and not changed on the whims of certain Member States.

This summer, information leaked to the media that actually the answer to the question of whether Bulgaria and Romania would join Schengen had to be announced this month. Do you have such information?

The Government works hard towards speeding up Bulgaria's Schengen accession. I believe that in recent years we have proved that Bulgaria is a serious partner. We have demonstrated that Bulgaria successfully safeguards the EU's outer border with Turkey, we cooperate with the EU law enforcement institutions on a regular basis and feed data to the EU information systems. Besides, I never stop trying to defend the interests of Bulgaria whenever the Schengen-related legislation is amended or new requirements for the protection of the EU outer borders are introduced. I am convinced that very soon our efforts will be rewarded and Bulgaria will become part of Schengen.

Should Bulgaria and Romania join Schengen in a single package or should they be treated as separate candidates?

Talking of Schengen entry, currently it would be technically difficult to separate the two countries because the technical preparation of the Bulgarian-Romanian border would be too time-consuming if the countries are treated separately. However, we will insist that Bulgaria and Romania should be separated when it comes to the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification under which both countries are treated on equal footing from the moment of their EU accession. As of late, we see that the developments in Romania have apparently taken the wrong course and, much to our regret, these developments negatively affect the reputation of Bulgaria just because the two countries are interrelated. We have witnessed the failure of the Romanian anti-corruption model along with the adoption of some legislative initiatives that set the country back years. These concerns were voiced during the debates in the plenary hall of the European Parliament last month when many harsh opinions on the developments in this country were aired. Meanwhile, Bulgaria meets all recommendations listed in the report from 2017, and the expectation is that if they are fulfilled before the mandate of the incumbent European Commission expires, the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification for Bulgaria will be discontinued. Romania's moving back is too serious, however, and if the two countries are still treated in a single package it can jeopardise our efforts for lifting the monitoring by Brussels.

Would it be a problem if Bulgaria joins Schengen by air and sea borders only?

Bulgaria's gradual accession to Schengen, first by air and sea borders, is one of the options considered. Naturally, the ideal scenario is the abolition of all border checks, including those at land borders, which will facilitate traffic at the Bulgarian-Greek border and help exports.

Another hot topic of the recent weeks is Macedonia. Are you worried about the complex situation there after the referendum?

The situation in Macedonia is complicated indeed. On the one hand, over 90% of those who cast their ballots said 'yes' to the name change, while on the other, the 50% turnout necessary for recognising the referendum as legitimate was not reached. The country fell victim to an orchestrated campaign calling on people not to go to the polls. The eventual agreement paves the way of Macedonia to the European Union and NATO for many reasons. It is a token of good neighbourly attitude and respect to other nations, while at the same time it preserves the historical and cultural heritage of Macedonia. All these fall into the category of European values, and Macedonia has to prove that its people will accept them if they want to become part of the European family. What is more important is that the ratification of this agreement will enhance stability on the Balkans, and Macedonia will only benefit from it. It will let the country think of its future development on a long-term basis, attracting investments and raising the standard of living.

Could these processes affect Bulgaria too, and are you concerned about the possibility of a snap election in Macedonia?

Any form of instability on the Balkans, especially in our neighbours, has a huge impact on Bulgaria. A snap election in Macedonia would stir concerns because it would result from the rejected constitutional amendments concerning the name change. It means that not only the argument over the name will not be settled but a political crisis will be provoked similar to the one we witnessed in 2015. It will also slow down the reforms which have to be implemented in Macedonia. As a rule, it is common people who suffer the most in such situations.

Do you think that an extension of the Brexit transition period could really be achieved, and what consequences would it have?

I do not think that the Brexit transition period could be extended, but there is a chance that at the last moment a decision will be taken to extend the negotiations about UK leaving the EU. This, however, would really be a last moment decision, should it be taken at all. Such course of development would be problematic with a view to the looming European Parliament election in May 2019, as the problem will arise of whether and how Great Britain will hold such election. However, so far all these issues are in the realm of speculation. The last year and a half showed that nothing about Brexit plays into stereotypes and we can expect many surprises, even at the last moment. Nevertheless, we all should concentrate our efforts on a timely Brexit deal. It will serve the interests not only of Brussels and London but will be of great importance for the business community and, moreover, for the common citizens who one way or another will be seriously affected by Brexit.

Close-up

Emil Radev was born on 26 May 1971 in the city of Varna. He graduated in Law and Public Administration and is currently a graduate student in Commercial Law. He has worked as a lawyer in Varna. From 2009 till 2013 he was an MP in the 41st and 42nd National Assembly. He was elected MEP in 2014. He is a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament. He speaks English, German and Russian.

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