Europeans more divided than ever on the migration issue

It was to be a day of joy for Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. After eleven years of waiting, these last two countries, in particular, hoped to finally enter the Schengen area and join the twenty-two members of this free movement zone. But Thursday, December 8, if the interior ministers of the Member States of the zone have indeed validated the entry of Croatia, they did not wish to pass to the vote concerning Bulgaria and Romania which pleaded, during three hours , their cause. In vain.

The Netherlands had long opposed their entry, citing the weakness of the control measures against corruption and the rule of law in these countries, before softening their position a little – the Hague had thus ended up opening the door to Bucharest. But for a month, in turn, Austria has come out of the woods, refusing en bloc the entry of the two applicants.

“There is no argument for this refusal, no analysis or anything else”, reacted the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikolay Milkov, at the end of the Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels. Internal Market Commissioner Ylva Johansson also regretted the decision. “When we are united, we are very strong. When we are disunited, like in Bulgaria and Romania, we are weak”, she lamented. In fact, Austria has hardened its position because of the migration issue, which has never divided the Twenty-Seven so much.

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“This year we have recorded more than 100,000 illegal border crossings into Austria”, underlined Gerhard Karner, the Minister of the Interior, upon his arrival at the council. However, the Austrian government fears that the lifting of controls at the borders of Romania and Bulgaria will further increase migratory pressure. Vienna’s position seems above all partly dictated by internal political reasons in the run-up to the forthcoming general elections. planned early 2023. In order to regain popularity, the unity government between the right and the greens has thus decided to play the card of firmness on immigration in the face of the rise in the polls of the far right.

Balance of power

If Europe does not deny the strong growth in irregular arrivals since the beginning of the year (281,000 entries, up 77% over ten months), the relationship with the Schengen zone nevertheless seems tenuous. Especially since on the Balkan route taken by many migrants, Croatia is not doing better than Romania or Bulgaria to stem the arrivals.

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