Bulgaria presses doubters before vote on Schengen zone entry

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Bulgarian Prime Minister Galab Donev on Monday said the Netherlands was opposing Bulgaria’s bid to join the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel region, ahead of a meeting of Europe’s home affairs ministers this week to discuss the matter.

EU members states Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are all seeking to join Schengen, and need unanimous support of the zone’s countries at the meeting on Dec. 8.

Donev was referring to comments from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who has voiced opposition to Bulgaria’s accession last week, according to ANP news agency, citing concerns over an alleged lack of effective rules to combat corruption.

Donev said Bulgaria met all requirements to join and opposition to its entry could create a divide within the EU. He called the Netherlands’ doubts a “double standard”.

“In the next few days, the government will continue its active work with its partners to ensure its accession into the Schengen area,” he said. “At the same time, depending on the outcome, the government stands ready to consider its response, including adopting counter measures.”

Austria has said it opposed expanding Schengen to Bulgaria and Romania citing the protection of the EU’s external borders. It has said the number of migrant arrivals passing through those countries would have to fall for it to agree.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia had been thoroughly investigated and the outcome was that they fulfil all Schengen requirements.

All the reports “make clear that Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia totally fulfil all the requirements of be full members of Schengen. And this is what I expect to be the outcome of the Council on Thursday,” she said in Brussels on Monday.

However, European Council President Charles Michel, in an interview with a group of European newspapers that was published on Monday in Czech daily Hospodarske Noviny, said Russia’s missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and risks of a new wave of refugees from the war in that country could also impact the debate.

“I was more optimistic several months ago about the unanimous agreement of European states with the entry of Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria,” he was quoted as saying. “Now when the matter is to be decided, the atmosphere is different.”

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