I went on a budget trip to Romania in early November 2021 during the COVID pandemic. I traveled for almost a week in Romania and it was rather surprising to me that even though Romania had been a member of the EU since January 1, 2007, it is not a part of the Schengen area. This article explores why Romania is not in Schengen and can it join Schengen any time soon?
- Romanian Border Control: My Experience
- 4 Reasons Why Romania is Not In Schengen
- Can Romania Join The Schengen Anytime Soon?
- Conclusion and My Opinion
Romanian Border Control: My Experience
Since I am from India and currently living in Ireland (which is not a Schengen area country), I had to apply for a double-entry visa for Hungary (which is a Schengen country) and use that to enter Romania.
I took an overnight train to Brasov from Budapest. It was really frustrating when the train halted twice during Hungary to Romania border crossing. The train first halted at Lőkösháza on the Hungarian side and then at Curtici on the Romanian side.
The passport stamping process takes roughly 1 hour of the 13 hours train journey from Budapest to Brasov.
Personally, I think not including Romania in Schengen despite being an EU country is a very silly idea. Nevertheless, I respect the rules and would focus on facts here.
4 Reasons Why Romania is Not In Schengen
Being a member of the EU doesn’t make a country de facto Schengen country. All the existing Schengen member countries have to accept the bid a country to join the Schengen region.
There are several factors such as the level of economic development, political stability, social progress, level of corruption, immigration management, etc. which play a crucial role in determining the Schengen membership of a country.
Romania had been claiming to be ready to join the Schengen area since 2011. In 2011, Germany and Finalnd had some major concerns about Romania’s claims. Over time, even France and Netherlands expresses some concerns.
I have described these factors in details below.
1. Corruption and Crime Rates in Romania
Although Romania’s bid to join the Schengen area was approved by the European Parliament in June 2011, it was rejected by the Council of Ministers in September 2011.
In 2011, Finland and Germany expressed their worries regarding Romania’s lack of stringent enforcement mechanisms to fight corruption and rampant crimes.
2. Illegal Migrants
The migrant crisis has been a major problem in the EU since the Arab spring in the early 2010s.
Wars in Syria, Libya, and Iraq have prompted the largest wave of migrants to Europe since World War II. Since Romania is closer to Turkey, Finland and Germany were especially skeptical about the Turkish and Arab immigration handling capabilities of Romania.
3. Rule of Law or Judicial Independence
In 2019, the European Commission, especially France raised concerns about the violation of Article 7 of the European Union treaty by Romania which jeopardized the inclusion of Romania in the Schengen area.
The Chamber of Deputies (Romanian: Camera Deputaților), the lower house in Romania’s bicameral parliament, passed some bills which violated the independence of the judiciary in Romania.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD)- led Romanian government that gained power in 2017, introduced a bill decriminalizing the offense of abuse of power involving sums of less than €44,000.
Some of the bills even lowered the sentence for certain types of crimes and decriminalized negligence in the workspace. Some other bills also made it easier to sue judges and prosecutors for erroneous decisions and introduced early retirement schemes. The then ruling Social Democratic party (2017-2021) had been accused of abuse of power, fraud, promoting lobby, and awarding state contracts in exchange for bribes.
4. Dutch Jealousy: A Conspiracy Theory or a Truth
The Netherlands has time and again blocked Romania’s inclusion in the Schengen region. Several Romanian politicians claim that the Dutch blocked Romania’s accession to Schengen to protect its interest of the port of Rotterdam.
According to several Romanians, the real reason behind the Dutch veto is that Romanian inclusion to Schengen would allow goods through Constanta to circulate in the EU markets without border controls, which would boost Romania’s import and export capacities.
As per the conspiracy theory, the Constanta port would then attract the maritime freight traffic now concentrated in Rotterdam, threatening its almost hegemonic position in Europe.
On the other hand, the Dutch officials have constantly defended their veto citing the corruption and migrant handling in Romania. You can listen to the Dutch minister’s comments in the video above.
Fact Check: Romania’s Constanta port handles less than 10 times freight than Netherland’s Rotterdam port. Constanta is not even among the top 20 EU sea ports. It’s the 22nd busiest sea port in the EU. Moreover, Rotterdam and Constanta serve different maritime routes and serve different types of freights in terms of volume.
A port’s container traffic is often decided from the amount of cargo it handles in terms of cargo tonnage. The containers’ traffic in the Constanta port amounted to 0.65 million TEUs in 2020 while the container traffic in Rotterdam was over 14 million TEUs in 2020. Currently, the Constanta port is running at roughly 60% of its maximum handling capacity. So, even if Constanta sea port runs at full capacity, it is very difficult for it to catch up with Rotterdam in the near future.
The rail road infrastructure in Romania to connect it with Hungary, the immediate Schengen neighbour, is still very nascently developed. The city of Pitesti, in the southern half of Romania, some 500 kilometres from Hungary, is the furthest that trucks can travel uninterruptedly by highway from the Black Sea port of Constanta.
On doing a fact check, I can see that if Romania joins the Schengen, there would be little to no impact on the Rotterdam due to Constanta.
I think the conspiracy around Dutch jealousy is bogus and lacks any truth.
There is no doubt that Constanta and Romania would benefit significantly if Romania joins Schengen. Currently, there are several projects being undertaken to develop rail-road communication from the seaport of Constanta.
Constanta is a strategic port in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Even US has recently invested heavily in the construction of a railway project connecting Gdansk to Constanta.
Some of the local news in Romania have circulated that Dutch would accept Romania in the visa-free Schengen space only if they would have the option to buy the Constanta port. However, this is untrue.
Can Romania Join The Schengen Anytime Soon?
The Schengen Evaluation Working Group (SCH-EVAL) is a group of experts from the existing Schengen member states which evaluates the merit of a country to join the Schengen and proposes amendments/recommendations through a process that is known as the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
The picture below explains the Schengen Evaluation process.
In my opinion, Romania now has a very strong case to justify the concerns raised by other Schengen countries regarding the accession of Romania to the Schengen area.
Here are a few reasons why I feel Romania should now be a Schengen country
1.Enhanced Security for EU
The recent immigration crisis in 2015 clearly shows that EU needs strong external borders. Romania (and Bulgaria)’s entry to the Schengen area will be a strategic move as it will extend the Schengen area all the way to the Black Sea.
If Romania becomes a Schengen country, Romania will manage 2,070 km of Schengen external border, the second-longest external border in the
European Union, out of which 1,877 km of land border.
2. Romanian External Land Borders as Schengen Standards
As per the claims files by Romania in 2011, it states that over 60,000 policemen have been trained at the highest standards for border control (as of 2011). Over 5,000 locations in Romania are connected to the voice data communication network of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
All Romanian consulates outside the Schengen borders are provided with specific equipment, according to the Schengen standards.
The 2011 Schengen Evaluation Report found that Romania’s borders are controlled in accordance with the Schengen acquis, and the border control and surveillance management is done in Romania in accordance with the integrated model for border security in the Schengen area.
Had Germany and Finland not opposed Romania’s corruption and immigration handling, Romania would have been a Schengen country now.
3. SCOMAR Coastal Surveillance System
An Integrated System of Border Surveillance and Control at the Black Sea – SCOMAR is currently operational in Romania. SCOMAR is a highly efficient and professional means of external border surveillance. SCOMAR was highly appreciated in the 2009-10 Schengen evaluation report.
SCOMAR consists of the following:
- Sea shore sensor system/sensor stations (SS)
- communication infrastructure
- Control and command centre (CCC)
- Special units for sea, land and air interventions
Indra, the Spanish IT company, is responsible for the deployment of the SCOMAR Coastal Surveillance System.
The sensor stations comprise of RADAR and optoelectronic sensors. These sensor stations can be fixed or mobile.
SCOMAR is supported by a fleet of surveillance vessels with state-of-the-art navigation and communication systems. These vessels are integrated in the European Patrolling Network. They carry out missions to prevent illegal immigration through Black Sea in coordination with the Bulgarian Border Police and Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
4. Immigration Checks at Airports
One of the major checks in the evaluation for joining Schengen is the implementation of the Schengen standards in the air border control and surveillance.
Romania undertook major construction work in the airports in the past one decade, building new terminals in the airports to handle extra Schengen flights, starting with the date of the accession to Schengen.
Further, the Bucharest and Timisoara airports are now compliant with handling the Schengen / non-Schengen passengers properly, in compliance with the Schengen requirements.
These major efforts were appreciated in the Schengen Evaluation Report. The experts who visited Romania on an evaluation mission in this field ascertained that at the airports in Bucharest and Timișoara, the border checks and the airports’ infrastructure comply with the requirements of the Schengen acquis.
5. Corruption Rate in Romania
The infamous Collectiv Nightclub Fire in 2015 in Bucharest highlighted the corruption prevalent in Romania. Romanians protested against several nightclubs in Bucharest which were given operating licenses without a permit from the fire department. Further, the anti-corruption protests led to the resignation of the Romanian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta.
According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2020, Romania ranks 69. Hungary is the Schengen country with the worst Corruption Perception Index rank of 69. Italy ranks the lowest among the Schengen counties in Western Europe with a Corruption Perception Index of 52.
According to a recent study, more than €38.6 billion is lost each year in Romania due to corruption. This is equivalent to around 15.6% of its GDP.
25% reported having been asked or expected to pay a bribe for a public service they needed at a given time, the second-highest among the EU.
Despite several civilian protests in the last few years, The GRECO ad hoc report of 2018 stated that Romania hasn’t made much progress in fighting against corruption. The previous progress registered in addressing previous recommendations were lost when the Social Democratic Party took office in 2017.
Conclusion and My Opinion
Just from evaluating the facts, I think that Romania has met all the requirements of the Schengen acquis regarding border control, air traffic management, data protection, and management of illegal migrants. It has actually met all the requirements of the Schengen acquis as per the evaluation done by the Schengen Evaluation Working Group.
However, for Romania to join Schengen, its bid has to be agreed upon by the Council of Ministers. Currently, the ministers from the Netherlands and France are against Romania joining Schengen citing very little progress in corruption management in the last decade. Corruption management and criminal handling is not a factor when it comes to joining Schengen.
Therefore, I believe that the reason for Romania not joining the Schengen is extraneous to the Schengen conditions.
Unless Romania really works on reducing corruption and does way with hostile nepotistic laws that favor the politicians, I don’t think Romania can join the Schengen anytime soon.
With the Social Democratic Party (PSD) once again in power in 2021, all the progress made before 2017 seems to be in the water.
I am aware that several Romanians have been fighting against corruption and judicial independence. But that needs to materialize. If Romania can somehow get ahead of Hungary, Poland, and Italy in Corruption Perception Index, I think Romania can join the Schengen.
Even though Romania had not been a Schengen country, it’s a part of the EU which allows its citizens to work freely in other EU countries. Therefore, Romanian citizens are not likely to benefit in relation to employment if Romania becomes a Schengen country.
As an outsider, I want to visit Romania again and see some of the missed out castles during my first visit. It would make my trip a lot more convenient if Romania is a part of the Schengen.
Disclaimer: I am just a well-wisher who wants Romania to be a part of Schengen asap. I have tried to be as unbiased as possible while presenting the facts. It’s my view that Romania should have been a part of Schengen as it meets all the existing criteria in the Schengen acquis. It’s just the politics and perception of some countries which have kept it at bay.