Ask any European Union official, elected or unelected, what the core of their vision is and always has been and their answer will be the free movement of people, goods, and services across the continent. As we watch news footage of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq walking unhindered along the motorway from Budapest to Vienna and beyond, it must be clear that the liberal European dream, at least concerning the free movement of people, has been well and truly realized.
Since Romania’s accession to the E.U. in 2007, one of the major issues that have hung as a question mark over the country’s acceptance as a full member has been its exclusion from the Schengen zone. Romanian governments have continually pushed their claim to join Schengen and the country’s previous president even used it as a political bargaining chip to achieve his vision of reuniting Romania with what is now the Republic of Moldova. Moldovans holding Romanian passports would directly benefit from Schengen membership when it was inevitably granted by his friends in the west.
However, the E.U. has steadfastly refused to grant either Romania or Bulgaria the benefits of Schengen membership. The long-running narrative says that both countries administer the external border of the E.U. with the dreaded east and that border is corrupt and open to the smuggling of everything from cigarettes to people in large numbers.
Neither Romania nor Bulgaria can effectively guarantee the security and safety of the wealthier E.U. countries to the west and so old style passport and customs controls must remain in place. Romania continues to be regarded as a risk and so retains the status of a second class E.U. member.
But wait a minute!
Surely those thousands of refugees walking to Vienna through central Europe completely by-passed Romania? They followed a route through Greece, Albania and Serbia to arrive in Hungary. Have there been riots at Gara de Nord in Bucharest? No, the dreadful scenes of the human tragedy unfolding in Europe have taken place in the center of Budapest. Have Romania’s Interior Ministry or Border Police been at fault by allowing many thousands of Syrian, Iraqi, and Kurdish people to pass into the very heart of the E.U.’s most privileged and protected territories without passport or customs scrutiny? No, they have been largely uninvolved in the unfolding crisis.
In fact, the E.U.’s Schengen Treaty has been torn to shreds in the past few weeks by pretty much everybody but Romania and, from a purely technical perspective, we could ask when and why Iraq and Syria were given membership of Schengen while Romanian is still excluded?
It is clear that the Schengen Treaty as we knew it no longer exists. In this context perhaps the Romanian government should stop negotiating membership of the Schengen zone, with the E.U., by the old rules because the game has changed and the reasons for Romania’s exclusion have become invalid.
Moreover, if there is to be a new Schengen Treaty then Romania should be at the top table helping to draft it.
By Ronnie Smith, guest writer
(Photo source: The UN Refugee Agency on Twitter)