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Bulgaria/Schengen Area

Published on January 4, 2011
Interview given by Philippe Autie, French Ambassador to Bulgaria, to the Bulgarian newspaper “24 Chasa”

Sofia, December 24, 2010

Q. – France’s position of delaying our entry into Schengen is already clear/known. Why was it necessary to send the Franco-German letter to the European Commission?

M. AUTIE – France and Germany wanted to express their position clearly so that, when the time comes, a transparent debate can take place in the framework of the European Union Council.

Q. – What, more specifically, are you expecting from Bulgaria in order for France to say “yes” to her joining Schengen?

M. AUTIE – France believes the entry of a new member into Schengen is an important and serious subject. It means the other member countries trust it to protect part of their common external border.

There are two phases in the procedure for a State’s accession to the Schengen Area. The first concerns the technical criteria and is aimed at ensuring that the candidate State masters the Schengen procedures it will have to set in motion.

The second phase concerns the actual decision on accession. It must be a unanimous decision by the European Union Council. It’s for the Council to judge if the candidate State offers full guarantees of effective protection of the common borders. It would be unrealistic, in this respect, not to take into account Bulgaria’s shortcomings in terms of corruption, organized crime and problems linked to the workings of the judicial system. Those shortcomings have been noted by the European Commission in the framework of the CVM [Cooperation and Verification Mechanism]. The idea isn’t to create a rigid link between joining Schengen and lifting that mechanism.

Once again, this is a grave and serious subject. Schengen works with a hypersensitive database. If it fell into the hands of organized crime, it would be a real flaw in our European defence and security system.

Q. – Isn’t the fight against corruption an excessively vague criterion that allows our entry into Schengen to be delayed for an indeterminate period?

M. AUTIE – We’re in no way seeking to postpone indefinitely Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen Area: if she’s ready in a year’s time, that will suit us perfectly. But let it be clear to your readers: after entry into Schengen, Bulgaria will find herself in the front line against the flow of illegal immigrants from Africa and Asia. So it’s first of all in the interest of Bulgarians that, the day their country becomes a member of the Schengen Area, their borders are perfectly protected, without any chance of obstruction by corruption and organized crime.

Q. – Do you believe Bulgaria could be separated from Romania in this accession process? We’ve been treated together with regard to the Roma and Schengen; we’re always treated together.

M. AUTIE – A word about the Roma first. France and Bulgaria aren’t opposed but standing shoulder to shoulder on this issue. We, French and Bulgarians, agree the response to the Roma issue is better integration of that community in its countries of origin, particularly Bulgaria. The European Union can and must contribute to that. In this respect, we welcome the coming Hungarian Presidency (first half of 2011), which has made this one of its priorities. Once again, I want to repeat here that there’s no link between the Roma issue and Bulgaria’s accession to Schengen.

In terms of accession to the Schengen Area, the candidatures of Romania and Bulgaria will each be assessed according to its merits.

Q. – If the technical report in January proves positive, is it possible that France might change her position?

M. AUTIE – France in no way questions the major technical progress accomplished by Bulgaria. However, alongside these advances, it’s essential to move forward in the fight against corruption and organized crime. In particular, it must be possible to complete the reform of the judicial system.

Q. – In Bulgaria we still have the impression that France is setting obstacles to Bulgaria. How are you going to respond to that impression?

M. AUTIE – We’re setting no obstacles. On the contrary, we welcome the Bulgarian government’s determination to carry out the reforms demanded by the European Commission. We also welcome the progress achieved in this regard, as does the Commission. However, we haven’t yet reached the end of the road and it wouldn’t be realistic to limit ourselves to a preconceived timescale./.

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