Postponing Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen Dream helps Russia
The EU Council's vote last December to admit Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania into the Schengen area for free travel should have been a triumphant moment for the bloc. A show of unity after a year of political and economic difficulties, as well as highlighting the fact that the bloc still has the political capacity to continue integrating the Balkan countries into the European project, notes the information portal euobserver.com.
Although Croatia welcomed the new year by joining the Eurozone and the Schengen area a month after its successful entry bid, its Balkan partners were not so lucky. Citing concerns about incomplete implementation of EU standards on the rule of law, as well as links between criminal groups and political institutions in both countries, the Netherlands and Austria vetoed Bulgaria's bid, while only Austria vetoed Romania's.
The veto caused widespread displeasure from both politicians and the public. The Netherlands and Austria were immediately accused of blocking their Balkan partners because of domestic problems - both countries faced growing support from anti-immigrant opposition parties - rather than for sound political reasons.
Bulgarians and Romanians even discussed a boycott of Austrian and Dutch products on social networks. Even some local politicians got involved, suggesting that their citizens boycott Austrian banks as well as the products of the Austrian chemical concern OMV.
Although many EU leaders did what they could to calm the growing discontent, the damage had already been done. Since then, key political figures from the bloc, as well as the governments of Bulgaria and Romania, have been working to ensure that there will not be another embarrassing veto this year.
The immediate argument for the...