Răzvan Nicolescu: It is a pro-EU act to resist the Austrian abuse against Bulgaria and Romania over their Schengen accession

Interview with the Romanian energy expert and NGO‌ activist who supports the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area without additional conditions, because it is their legitimate right under EU‌‌ treaties

– Why, if the Romanians want to go and to enjoy the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria next year, why should there be more border checks for them? I don’t understand that. For the same reason, why do the Bulgarians who want to visit the beautiful Romanian Carpathians or the beautiful monasteries from Bucovina need to have more checks? This is purely populism. This has something to do with their internal political agenda and it’s completely anti-European – says Răzvan Nicolescu, former Romanian energy minister and current president of the Clean Energy and Climate Change Association, commenting on the agreement on the Schengen accession of Bulgaria and Romania.

Interview by Vladimir Mitev.

Răzvan Nicolescu is a former energy minister of Romania 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, thus the petition becoming transformed into an EU resolution that condemns Austria. In October 2023 Nicolescu announced that his NGO had attacked Austria in the European Court of Justice. Then Nicolescu announced quoted by Romanian media such as g4media that his NGO would request the revolting of the EU Council decision from 8 December 2022, which left Bulgaria and Romania outside of the Schengen area and would request that Austria respects the environmental obligations of the EU under the Convention from Aarhus, because the trucks who are fixed on Bulgarian and Romanian Schengen borders for days before passing emit a lot of additional and unnecessary air pollution. He is currently a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The provisions of the agreement between Austria, Romania and Bulgaria over the accession to the Schengen area for Bulgaria and Romania can be read here.

Mr. Nicolescu, we have some form of an agreement on the Schengen accession of Bulgaria and Romania agreement with Austria. The European Commission supports it as well, as it was announced on 30 December 2023. How would you comment what you see in the document?

It’s a step ahead in terms of the decision made by the Council via a written procedure. If it was only the decision, I would have been satisfied. I am very disappointed with the joint statement made by Bulgaria, Romania and Austria which is an appendix to the decision. I’m not satisfied, because there are five new conditions which are not part of the Schengen criteria.

And on top of this, there is also a sixth condition to have access to the land borders, which is the decrease of migration in Austria. This has nothing to do with Romania or Bulgaria. We are not neighbours of Austria. We cannot be held accountable for the migration coming from somewhere else, from Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy. This is very weird in my view.

The governments in Bulgaria and Romania present this decision or agreement as victory. At the same time, we see that Austrian conditions which were announced in the beginning of December 2023 have entered completely in this document. In another interview you told me that our countries have legitimate rights to enter the Schengen area without any additional conditions. But this is now being transformed. To what extent this solution is a victory as it is announced, to what extent it is something else?

I don’t like to comment on political statements on both sides. What I can tell you is that the government of Austria shows a completely anti-European behavior. And since December 8th, 2022, it’s obvious that they have been acting against the EU basic principles.

We were asked to have more checks between Romania and Bulgaria. This is totally anti-European. Why do we need to do it? Who is going to pay for that? And what is the reason? 

Why, if the Romanians want to go and to enjoy the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria next year, why should there be more border checks for them? I don’t understand that. For the same reason, why do the Bulgarians who want to visit the beautiful Romanian Carpathians or the beautiful monasteries from Bucovina need to have more checks? I don’t understand that neither. This is purely populism. This has something to do with their internal political agenda and it’s completely anti-European. Our role as a civil society is to make that point and to be very clear on this.

How do you expect that this extra-guarded border between Bulgaria and Romania will influence the flow of people and goods between the countries?

For sure it will not have a positive impact. Again, it’s completely anti-European. And I don’t understand why this was introduced. 

I understand one request coming from them saying: “OK, guys, Bulgarians and Romanians, if there are illegal migrants entering your country and if they arrive in Vienna, then you have to take them back.” That’s fair. In Europe we have to create more solidarity, we have to create more trust. They are asking us to actually put more obstacles between Romanians and Bulgarians. In my view this is totally unacceptable.

What are the chances that Bulgaria and Romania join the land Schengen?

It’s very difficult to say if it is linked to five new criteria. The Croats were not asked for something like that. So this is totally unfair. It is a discrimination. But let’s suppose that this is in our hands and there are no criteria that we cannot match. I’m mostly concerned about the sixth condition, because it says: OK, if you meet the five criteria, then you can join if the migration decreases substantially in Austria. But this is not in our hands! What can we do to decrease migration in Austria? What can we do if they don’t want to protect their country and if there is no good border protection somewhere else, in Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Hungary or Serbia? This is not in our hands. It’s something out of our control. And that’s why it’s totally unfair. 

I expected more from the European Commission. I expected them to act as guardians of the EU principles. They are the guardian of the EU treaty. And I expected them to be more active in sanctioning any deviation from the EU rules, treaties, standards.

In 2023 your NGO sued Austria in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg over Vienna’s lack of solidarity, presumed abuse of good trust and solidarity principle in the EU and not accepting Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen. What is the situation of this court procedure right now? Where have you reached?

We have two actions in the court. One action is linked to the environmental impact, because the trucks waiting at the border between Greece and Bulgaria, between Bulgaria and Romania and between Romania and Hungary, have been producing pollution. They have been generating CO2 emissions. So this is the case  we have in EU court in the first trial and we are in the second trial about the decision made on December 8th 2022. And I look forward to seeing the outcome. 

Our actions are not only for Romania, Bulgaria, but is also for the entire EU. The EU cannot survive with behaviors like the one shown by the Austrian leaders in relation to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. One cannot be abusive and act in a discriminatory manner. So it’s our right to be part of the Schengen zone. We have been losing money because we are not part of the Schengen zone. We lose somewhere between 0.8 and 2% of our GDP per year. And the Greeks also lose money, because they are only in theory part of the Schengen zone with the land borders. In reality they can only be part of land Schengen if Bulgaria and Romania join.

This is the situation, and our action, as I said, is pro-Europe. We have been trying to defend Europe. We have been trying to smash the abusive vetoes that could be so detrimental for the future of our great Union.

Finally, there are some claims that if somebody is skeptical of this agreement, maybe he’s… promoting Russian propaganda. What do you think about that? Is it legitimate to be critical of the current agreement?

Russian propaganda is very present in our countries. It’s a fact. I have no doubts about that. But also now we have not become crazy. It’s our right as citizens to comment. Everybody has the right to comment. I make our comments with my soul and I cannot say that white is black and black is white. For me the truth matters.

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