Răzvan Nicolescu: Bulgaria, Romania and Greece need a joint action to respond on Austria’s Schengen proposal

The NGO founded by Răzvan Nicolescu has sued Austria at the European Court in Luxembourg for the damages that Romania and Romanians are suffering because of non-membership in the Schengen zone.

Răzvan Nicolescu is a former Romanian energy minister and current president of the Clean Energy and Climate Change Association. The NGO he founded is the author of a petition calling for Romania and Bulgaria to be admitted to the Schengen area, the theses of which were supported by over 80% of MEPs on 12 July 2023.

Vladimir Mitev of Cross-Border Talks and the Friendship Bridge spoke to Răzvan Nicolescu in Sofia at an event on regional cooperation between Romania, Bulgaria and Greece in the fight against climate change and the green transition, organised by the European Council on Foreign Relations – Sofia. Răzvan Nicolescu is a board member of this important European think tank.

The conference on green transition. Photo by EFCR.

Mr Nicolescu, how should our countries react to the Austrian proposal to “solve” the problem of their Schengen accession?

I would like to see better coordination between Romania and Bulgaria. In my view, Greece and the European Commission should also be involved in this coordination. Greece has just as great an interest as Romania and Bulgaria in both countries becoming members of the Schengen area with land borders. In fact, Greece’s accession to the European Union with land borders has not yet happened – they are an island in terms of land borders. With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, they are actually joining as well.

It seems to me that the countries concerned are more coordinating through the press. It seems we haven’t learned much from last year’s experience. Not being in an official capacity, I don’t have access to official discussions, but in my view, coordination should not be done through the press.

Besides, what is to be done? We go on a common decision, we support each other or we recognize each other’s right to go as we want and do what we want. We have a legal basis for a separate approach because Article 4 (2) of the Treaty of Accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU speaks of two decisions. All these things and approaches have to be agreed and coordinated. I repeat: it seems to me that we are improvising. We have to decide whether “air” is better than “nothing” or how far we go to have our full rights recognised. It seems, lately, that European politics has become a place of blackmail where rights we have had for 12 years are not recognised.

It is a reality. What do we do now? We start negotiating our accession to the EU again. We, politically, when we joined the EU, we also joined the Schengen area. We did not join the Schengen area on the same day when we joined the EU, because we had to fulfil some criteria related to the functioning of the Schengen area. There was no clear deadline because nobody knew when we would be in a position to meet those criteria. Basically what is being negotiated is an honourable way out of a ridiculous situation of some Austrian politicians. This is what we are negotiating, because something else was negotiated when we entered: when we meet the technical criteria, we enter Schengen.

Looking, on the other hand, at these conditions imposed by these Austrian politicians. I don’t see anything that should scare us. They say – “Respect the Dublin protocol”. Well, we have to respect it. They don’t have to tell us to respect it, they don’t have the moral quality to tell us that, because they, too, have to respect the Dublin protocol. In December 2022 the Commission started infringement proceedings, because they do not respect the Dublin Protocol. Then let’s reinforce the borders with Frontex police. What’s the problem? It’s all very well for Frontex police to come and guard our borders. As a Romanian or Bulgarian citizen, I would not be worried about that. More European policemen to guard our external borders, more security for us.

Even stronger checks at the Romanian-Bulgarian border are required.

There are internal borders here. Sure, theoretically a dedicated system could be implemented, but I don’t see why. It seems to me a waste of resources.

Checking on the border between Greece and Bulgaria, on the border between Bulgaria and Romania, on the border between Romania and Hungary, is a waste of resources. We must protect our borders with problems, not waste resources. Why keep hundreds of policemen on the border with Bulgaria or on the border with Hungary, when Bulgaria should also send policemen to the border with Turkey, to reinforce the protection on the border with Turkey, together with Frontex policemen? The Romanians should send their policemen on the border with Bulgaria and Hungary to reinforce the piece of the border they have exposed to illegal migration, namely the piece of the border with Serbia that is not covered by the Danube. As Europeans we need to trust each other.

What exactly can Romanians and Bulgarians do if they coordinate their moves with Greece? What can joint action consist of?

We have 50,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. What do we do about this climate impact? Many hauliers transport fruit and vegetables from Greece to Austria. Austrian citizens have to eat older fruit and vegetables because of the hypocrisy and populism of their own politicians. Coming back to the environment, how do we enforce the treaties? The European Commission must be brought on board, because it is the guardian of the treaties. Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and the European Commission must demand compliance with the treaties or take the case to the Court of Justice together if they continue to be violated.

You authored and supported a petition that put pressure and became a European Parliament document.

We do not want to put pressure on anyone. We have some rights that we should be recognised and we are not willing to pretend that we do not know that we have these rights. Parliament adopted a resolution by a large majority. Parliamentarians, MEPs from Romania and Bulgaria also supported it. We also spoke about the situation in Bulgaria because we thought it was right. In that resolution, we also ask only one simple thing: we love the European Union and we want the European Union treaties to be respected. Our demand is a profoundly pro-European demand. We are defending the fundamentals of the European Union and we will do everything in our power, including taking cases to the European Court of Justice to defend the European Union.

So what happens next after the European Parliament has adopted this resolution? Are you doing any new activities or is there any movement on this issue?

We already have several actions at the European Court of Justice and at the General Court of the European Union. Of course it is harder for an NGO to win cases at the European Court of Justice than for a state or a group of states. But we will go all the way. We are also preparing an information campaign in Austria, because I have the feeling that Austrian citizens do not know what the real situation is. I mean they are lied to and manipulated by their own politicians.

To what extent are you looking for Bulgarians to join these initiatives?

We have had Bulgarian citizens supporting our petition in the European Parliament and this can only make me happy and I would like to have a closer and sincere cooperation. It is very important in this whole process, we among ourselves, to be sincere and to help each other. And to succeed in unblocking this situation. I don’t care whether Bulgaria goes first, Romania goes second, Romania goes first or both immediately, as would be natural.

Finally, the Bulgarian and Romanian carriers came out with this idea of a mini-Schengen a year ago. How do you see this idea in the current context after these Austrian proposals?

I am an activist in a non-governmental organisation and a commentator. I have no decision-making role. I’m curious from a legal point of view to see how it will be written, that you can’t be in Schengen and out and dry and wet and black and white.

If we only go in with the air borders, the three countries should immediately remove their land borders with each other. They are internal EU borders. Nowhere in the European Union is there a commitment on internal borders, there are commitments only on external borders, so we can’t do what we want on external borders, but on the internal borders of the Union we can do what we want. There is no legal obstacle for anyone. Then we will see if Orban Viktor will care more about the Hungarians in Romania than the Hungarians in Ukraine whom he mocks.

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