Andrey Kovatchev, MEP: Bulgaria, Romania Will Be Given Green Light for Schengen

Interview |Author: Milena Hristova | December 20, 2010, Monday // 18:24|  views

Andrey Kovatchev is member of the European Parliament from Bulgaria's ruling party GERB and chairman of the Bulgarian delegation in the European Peoples' Party (EPP) group.

Milena Hristova talked to Andrey Kovatchev as launched the new section "Bulgaria in 2011", highlighting the most important issues that the country will face next year.

Are you an optimist that the European Parliament will give the green light to Bulgaria's bid to join the European visa-free Schengen zone in 2011?

I am a realist. I believe that the EU member states will have the will to give an objective assessment of what Bulgaria has achieved in its preparation for joining the European visa-free Schengen zone. This assessment will be crucial for whether the European Parliament and the EU Council will give the green light for Schengen expansion. Of course there are still some member states, which oppose Bulgaria and Romania's accession, but I am sure that in the next few months we will convince them that we are ready for that.

Are Bulgarian MEPs unanimous on that issue?

I have said before that we, the Bulgarian members of the European Parliament, are unanimous and work in harmony when we have to defend a national cause, embraced by the whole Bulgarian society. Still the colleagues from the opposition have the right to express their own opinion, but I believe we should be united on that issue. I expect my Socialist and Liberal colleagues to not just support, but also work in their political groups for Bulgaria's accession to the Schengen zone, just as we do at the European Peoples' Party (EPP) group. Unfortunately sometimes they are being tempted to instill fear into the hearts of the people instead of working for the cause.

Why is it so important for Bulgaria to enter the Schengen zone in March 2011, a target date, which has been set as early as in 2007, during the term of the previous Socialist-led government?

Bulgaria and Romania are obliged to be ready to join Schengen in 2011 as provided in their EU accession treaties from January 1, 2007. For me it makes no difference whether the country will join Schengen in March, April or September. The exact date doesn't matter. The important thing is that all countries understand the country will be part of the Schengen Area. There is no drama here. I am an optimist and expect that in 2012 we will be able to travel without border checks. The deadline, which Bulgaria and Romania set themselves is really very ambitious, but the two countries are putting in lots of efforts and have managed to meet the criteria. Bulgaria managed to a very short period of time, after the government succeeded in extending the deadline, to absorb 100% of the financing under the Schengen Facility and reform in line with the requirements not only its borders, but also its communication with the other member states through the Schengen Information System.

Bulgarian experts are unanimous that the country meets the technical requirements. Can you confirm that?

I expect that the experts from the member states will give an objective assessment of the effort the Bulgarian government is making. We should do what we are supposed to do and prove that we can be a trusted partner and a safe external border of the European Union. When we talk about Bulgaria's readiness to be a part of the Schengen zone, transparency is a must.

Do you think Bulgaria deserves next year's entry? Will it be fatal if it fails to do so?

Put in this way, this question obviously expects a positive answer. I believe that the political decision will be taken next year and it will come into force in 2012. As I already stressed our European partners have clearly declared that Bulgaria will become part of the Schengen Area and the exact date and month of the formal decision is no drama at all.

Could a failure of either Bulgaria or Romania to join the visa-free zone jeopardise Schengen entry for the other?

I would like to stress once again that Bulgaria and Romania work in tandem for their accession to the Schengen Area and have the support of the other countries.

What will be the advantages and disadvantages for Bulgaria after it joins the European visa-free zone? What will be the impact on the business?

Bulgaria's accession to the European visa-free zone is in itself a very important step in equalizing the rights of the Bulgarian and the other European citizens. The free movement of people facilitates that links with other European countries, including business ties.

Our country offers very favorable conditions for doing business, low taxes being the main attractive factor. Bulgaria's entry into the Schengen Area will boost the confidence foreign investors have in the country. This will be a benchmark, which is very important for them. Besides the citizens of third countries with a Schengen visa will be able to visit the country, skipping the administrative procedures, which will be another positive thing.

How would you interpret a possible refusal by Brussels to delay the entry?

As I already said that exact date or month of the formal decision is not that important. Our country has the strong support of the European Commission and the member states. We should not forget however that in some countries populist parties fuel the anti-European integration sentiments in the society. I consider this phenomenon to be very harmful because the only solution to our problems today is to have a bigger Europe. What we, Europeans, need is to expand and deepen the integration and not churn out some cheap populist talk.

Can Bulgaria succeed in its efforts to separate Schengen accession from the European Commission's continued monitoring of its justice reform and anti-corruption efforts?

These are two totally different processes. Formally the fulfillment of the criteria for Schengen accession has nothing to do with the European Commission's monitoring mechanism. This has also been declared by the European Commission, but of course in the context of overall political atmosphere every action or lack of action in Bulgaria matters. What is important is that we press on with the reforms in the judicial system and show concrete results by making so that the ongoing trials result in convictions.

What do you think stands behind the reluctance of France, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria to let the two Balkan countries join the Agreement in 2011?

I do not share this opinion. I believe that our European partners trust us and assess very highly the policy of the current government. There is no doubt about that. I am sure that next year even the biggest skeptics will be convinced that Bulgaria has done its homework and can be a safe external border of Schengen.

Could we see a repeat of the scenario in 2005-2006, when many countries threatened to hamper Bulgaria's EU accession but eventually swallowed the pill?

Nobody is threatening Bulgaria with anything. The government puts in a lot of efforts, which don't go unnoticed by the European Union. I expect that we will see the formal assessment of this efforts in 2011.

We need your support so can keep delivering news and information about Bulgaria! Thank you!

Tags: Andrey Kovatchev, in 2011, EU membership accession, France, Schengen, Schengen Agreement, Bulgaria, Romania, European Commission, Marin Lessenski, Open Society Institute, Lessenski, Marin, European parliament, European Peoples' Party (EPP)


» Related Articles: