European interior ministers are meeting in Brussels on Thursday to discuss expanding the passport-free Schengen Area to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.
The Schengen Area currently comprises 26 European countries that have officially got rid of all passport and other types of controls at their shared borders. In mid-November, the European Commission already stated that Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania meet all the requirements and have their border security in order. However, it is up to the Member States to make the final decision.
"The time has come to allow Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to become full Schengen members, as is their right," Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said on 16 November. "Continued delays risks alienating citizens of these countries at a time when Europe needs to be knitting closer together. An enlarged Schengen area will make the EU stronger, internally and on the global stage."
For EU diplomats, Croatia's admission is reportedly no longer under discussion, De Morgen reports. But Bulgaria and Romania – who have been waiting for 11 years – will have to wait a bit longer, as the Netherlands is opposed to admitting Bulgaria while Austria opposes both Balkan countries.
'Border and migration policy must first work better'
The meeting follows recently-emerged footage of a young Syrian refugee being shot with live ammunition by Bulgarian border guards when trying to cross into the EU at the Bulgaria-Turkey border on 3 October this year.
The 19-year-old young man, named Abdullah, was trying to enter Bulgaria in the hope of claiming asylum; he sustained life-changing injuries to his hand and arm. A medical report states that the bullet passed through his hand and entered his chest, lodging one centimetre from his heart.
According to the collaborative journalism project by Lighthouse Reports, which obtained and verified the video, the footage shows new evidence that demonstrates – once again – how refugees are denied their basic rights at the EU's borders.
- 'Shocking footage' shows young Syrian refugee being shot by Bulgarian police on EU border
- Austria and the Netherlands poised to veto Bulgaria and Romania Schengen bids
In the run-up to the EU meeting, the Austrian government has stated that the European border and migration policy must work better before admitting Bulgaria and Romania. "Currently, there are 75,000 unregistered illegal migrants in our country. These have come to Austria by crossing an external EU border. That has to be solved first."
Initially, Sweden also had objections to the accession but has since brushed them aside. According to an EU diplomat, the earliest the issue will be able to be discussed again is in six to 12 months' time.