On a visit to Sofia yesterday (6 February) Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte poured cold water on his host’s ambition to unlock Bulgaria’s bid to join the EU border-free Schengen space, and said the country needed also more work to cover the criteria for joining the Eurozone.
Rutte is on a two-day visit to Bulgaria at the invitation of his counterpart Boyko Borissov. Bulgaria is in charge of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU for the first half of 2018.
Borissov is highly motivated to end a long-lasting obstruction by member states to his country’s Schengen accession.
Both Bulgaria and Romania were given the ‘green light’ by the Commission to join the borderless Schengen space in 2010. However, as admission requires unanimity, they have been blocked by a group of countries including France, Germany and the Netherlands.
A recent visit of Merkel to Sofia was interpreted by the Bulgarian authorities as a more open attitude to Bulgaria’s Schengen accession. This is why the position of the Netherlands was awaited with a lot of hope.
Rutte however poured cold water on Borissov.
“We support Bulgaria’s Schengen accession. But work is not yet finished – it takes efforts of many participants in the process, including Bulgaria. But I want to congratulate Borissov for the achievements so far. As Juncker said – there is still some work Bulgaria must do, and I think it will do”, said Juncker, as quoted by Mediapool.
In fact, Juncker has said Bulgaria and Romania are ready to join Schengen and must join it immediately.
He also made it clear that he doesn’t consider that Bulgaria is ready to join the Eurozone.
“I would like to stress the big achievements of Bulgaria with regard to foreign debt and economic growth, and to other important criteria which are obligatory for full membership in the Eurozone. In this regard, Bulgaria clearly progresses in the right direction”, Rutte said.
— Bea ten Tusscher (@beatentusscher) February 6, 2018
Borissov recognised that more work was needed, but assured that the goals would be reached.
“Everybody sees that [Bulgaria] is a safe external border [for the EU]. Everybody recognises Bulgaria has a very good presidency. I hope we will be able to convince the parliament in Netherlands, with their complicated coalition, that Bulgaria is observing discipline”, the Bulgarian PM said.
Earlier in the day Solomon Passy, a former foreign minister, spoke on national television, suggesting that Borissov should tell Rutte Bulgaria could do everything it can to prevent him from becoming Council President, if his country continues to block Bulgaria’s Schengen accession.
According to analysts Rutte could replace Donald Tusk as Council President when the top job will be available at the end of 2019.