Ion Lixandru: Separation from Bulgaria is not reasonable, because we have so much work to do together

Interview with a Romanian infrastructure and transport expert on Bulgarian-Romanian relations after the negative vote of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on the accession of the two countries to the Schengen area: “This is our moment. Romania must be together with Bulgaria, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, no matter who, what or how”

Vladimir Mitev, The Bridge of Friendship

The Infrastructure Task Coordinator of the Romanian Business Leaders organisation talks to Bridge of Friendship blog in the context of the negative vote on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area in the Justice and Home Affairs Council: how realistic is the idea of abolishing border controls between Romania and Bulgaria, promoted by the Union of Road Hauliers, why the separation of Bulgaria from Romania is not a good idea and what can the two governments do to protect their interests.

According to Ion Lixandru, the two countries have a lot to do together and separation is impossible. He is saying this at a time when the Romanian Union of Road Hauliers called on Romania to abolish border controls at the border with Bulgaria.

In Romania, who approves and who disapproves of a Bulgarian-Romanian mini-Schengen area?

It is a matter of diplomacy, because there are treaties. From my point of view, and probably from the point of view of others when we talk about interference, if this trilateral Hungary-Romania-Bulgaria mini-Schengen was to be implemented, the EU would seize to be what it was or what it was intended to be under its statute. Mini-Schengen breaks some internal laws. It’s true that Austria has also broken its technical rules, but it does not go as far. The Austrian Minister of Interior demonstrated that the decision on Schengen is political and they do not want the two countries in. 

Entering in Schengen area should be like a test. Whoever passes can move on. Me not liking the person is another question. Perhaps this veto could be overcome by some legislative measures which can achieve a majority without two votes. In Romania, for example, we had the unanimity rule. In the big organisations that I am part of, sometimes we had people who did not want something – usually embassies, representatives of ambassadors etc. We used to agree that unanimous approval without two votes is necessary for a decision. We’ve accepted a lot of projects with this rule, preventing situations like this where the majority wants something, but their decision is blocked. This is our opinion and the opinion of the whole business community. And, of course, we should say no to the separation of Bulgaria from Romania and there should be no sanctions for the Austrian companies that are here, because they are not to blame. Romanians work here in Romania and Bulgarians work in Bulgaria, even if the capital is Austrian. Let us not mix them up, it is not good for us.

Why do you think separation from Bulgaria is bad or undesirable?

Well, it means that we are no longer together, because even if Romania can enter Schengen without Bulgaria, it will not solve the problem, as there is a transit problem. The queues will be at the entrance to Bulgaria from Romania and vice versa. Only from Romania will it be possible to reach Europe without stopping. I mean, from the port of Constanța you would be able to go to Western Europe. However, we are interested in bringing Bulgaria as a partner, because we are capable of a lot of things together. Two bridges over the Danube, the rail link, the dredging of the Danube are existential problems for the Romanians. If Bulgaria does not join Schengen, it will be more difficult to organise the southern Euroregion, where funds are unlimited.

We could not manage the Danube on our own without Bulgaria, because if Bulgaria does not dredge on its side, we cannot have a navigable canal. The sand will flow back towards us. We can do this only together. This is where the battle is being fought. Many do not understand what they need. They have to understand that we need a common structure with Bulgaria. The current transmission of natural gas and electricity goes through Bulgaria into Romania. Joining Schengen makes it much easier to do this. This is our moment. Romania must be together with Bulgaria, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, no matter who, what or how.

What initiatives can the two governments take to overcome this Schengen impasse?

It is all a matter of negotiation. Joining the Schengen area can still be negotiated. This week the European Union Council of leaders of each country will meet. And if a political decision is taken, there could be another extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council where there will be no vote. It will simply have to implement the decision of the leaders. 

As in your work, you have an editor-in-chief or a partner. You say to him: “Look, I do not want this!” And he says, “No way. Yes, I agree with your opinion. It’s just that I, as the manager of this media outlet, decided to go down that road. I just give you a document, and you send it. You don’t have to agree with it.” 

I don’t know if you understand me, because the Minister of Home Affairs is subordinate to the Prime Minister or, depending on who is in the country, the Prime Minister or the President. If 27 superiors decide, the subordinate in a lower position cannot come and say “no”. He has to obey. It is a political decision and the European Union has become political. If there is a political decision, we obey and that is all. The Minister can say “no”, but he has no choice. So, goodbye. He is implementing it. He’s the Home Secretary, he’s an implementer, like any minister. He implements. That’s why he’s a minister.

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