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Austria blocked Romania’s and Bulgaria’s entry into Schengen

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This was confirmed by Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) on Thursday in Brussels on the sidelines of a meeting with his EU colleagues. Karner justifies this with the high number of asylum applications in Austria and calls for further measures by the EU Commission. The Netherlands also voted against the admission of the two countries. However, the way for Croatia into the Schengen area is clear.

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Croatia joins the Schengen area on January 1st

BRUSSELS. The way for Croatia’s accession to the Schengen area without border controls is clear.

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Croatia joins the Schengen area on January 1st

Blockade: Austria is largely isolated

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) justifies this with the high number of asylum applications in Austria and calls for further measures by the EU Commission. Bulgaria and Romania react angrily. “It’s wrong that a system that doesn’t work in many places is enlarged at this point.” According to the interior minister, there were more than 100,000 illegal border crossings to Austria this year, 75,000 of which were not registered. Further evidence that the system is currently not working would be shown by the numerous controls at the internal borders in the Schengen area. Karner spoke out in favor of postponing the vote on Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession: “Now is not the right time to take this step.”

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With its veto announcement, Austria is largely alone in the EU. The Netherlands have only expressed concerns with regard to Bulgaria, but have recently given the go-ahead for Romania and Croatia.

Anger at Austria

The Romanian Minister of the Interior, Lucian Bode, was angry with Austria on Thursday. “Romania will only ask for one thing – respect,” said Bode before the meeting of interior ministers, according to the Romanian news agency Agerpres, and again spoke out against postponing the decision. “Romania’s arguments are well known and supported by the Czech Presidency, the European Commission and most Member States, with the exception of Austria,” said the Romanian Interior Minister.

“Today is the important day,” said EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson before the start of the Council. “We have a good development and a constructive discussion.” Johansson can understand the situation in Austria. The EU country “is really under pressure with irregular migration.” That’s why she presented a Western Balkans action plan earlier this week.

Nehammer “rejected every rational argument”

On Wednesday evening, Romania tried unsuccessfully to persuade Austria to change its mind. The Romanian MEP Eugen Tomac reported after the EPP parliamentary group meeting in Vienna that Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) had rejected “every rational argument”. According to Agerpres, it was one of the most tense political meetings he has ever witnessed. “He rejected everything that the European Commission proposed, denied every report and statistic. He just made an absurd decision. He just wants to humiliate Romania in an unacceptable way,” wrote the EPP MEP on Facebook. According to Agerpres Nehammer, Romania’s Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca also tried to change his mind in a telephone call on Wednesday evening. Bulgaria previously threatened unspecified “countermeasures” if it refused to join.

Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger made it clear on Thursday that he considers the Austrian blockade to be counterproductive. The accession of Bulgaria and Romania would help in the fight against illegal migration, said Heger on the sidelines of a meeting of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Vienna. “We need to understand what the problem is and what we need to focus on,” he said. The aim is to “seal off” the EU’s external border. “Slovakia’s position is very clear: we support Schengen expansion to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. They have completed the procedure and met the criteria.”

At a joint appearance with Heger before the vote, EPP boss Manfred Weber also emphasized that the admission of Bulgaria and Romania would “strengthen the entire area”. That is why the largest European party family, to which Nehammer’s ÖVP also belongs, is in favor of expansion. As far as migration flows to Austria are concerned, Weber pointed the finger at long-time Schengen member Hungary. “Viktor Orban is currently one of the open doors of the European Union. He doesn’t control his border against illegal immigration, and that needs to be addressed,” Weber urged the EU leaders to confront their Hungarian colleagues at next week’s EU summit .

The existing Schengen members must unanimously agree to the admission of another country. In addition to 22 EU member states, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein belong to the Schengen area. Normally there are no stationary border controls in this area. Especially after the migration crisis in 2015, this principle was suspended by a number of countries, including Austria.

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