Bulgaria: Final touches before Schengen
10 April 2012
The European Commission has postponed Bulgaria’s accession to the free movement area due to lack of progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime. Though Sofia boasts of having fulfilled all the conditions, an investigation by Trud reveals otherwise.
“A thin coat of paint is all that still separates us from Schengen”, our Prime Minister said one year ago. When an Austrian journalist then asked him if Bulgaria, considered the most corrupt and crime-ridden country in the whole European Union (EU ), truly was ready,
Boyko Borisov got angry. “Our border is guarded better than those in many other EU countries”, he replied, upset. There were only “a few things” to do, he explained, before all the requirements would be met, like “giving an administrative building a new coat of paint” – a reference to the reception centre for illegal immigrants at the Turkish border.
The centre has now been repainted and is ready to open, but the decision on Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen area has been postponed yet again, until September this time.
Meanwhile, there is widespread recognition, including from the European Commission, that Bulgaria has met the “technical” conditions for membership. That means information systems, software, the training of border guards, surveillance tools – everything that the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for is in place.
No water at the border post
But when it comes to the other aspects of joining the Schengen area – infrastructure and renovation of border posts, in particular – the work is far from being done. In fact, it’s just beginning, as became evident from the Trud investigation.
At Vrachka Tchuka and Bregovo, for example, the two border crossings with Serbia in the north-west, the renovations amounted to about 500,000 levas [approximately 257,000 euros]. When we arrive in Vrachka, the officials tell us they have no water.
A pipeline has broken down, which apparently happens very often around here. As well, one of the electrical installations is obsolete, sanitary facilities are in poor condition and parts of the entry-exit gates are dismantled. “We still have a lot to do,” admitted the governor, Tzvetan Videnov.
The asphalt has to be poured, all the signage redone, and, last but not least, a new lane canopy must be built – as evidenced by the gaping trenches apparently dug for its future foundations. In Bregovo the situation is the same. There, however, the work has not even begun. “It will be done by this summer!” the chief declares.
Very expensive building work
The frontier post of Malko Tarnovo on the Turkish border opened on May 16, 1970. Since then, it has been largely left alone. Everything dates back to that era: the furniture, the wallpaper, the paint. Similarly, the main crossing point with Turkey, Kapitan Andreevo, is also in need of some touch-ups.
The former duty-free goods shop, since transformed into a warehouse, is eventually to house the offices of the new Contact Centre between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece that should handle crises, such as floods or massive influxes of migrants. The reconstruction is scheduled to start next September at an estimated cost of half a million levas [approximately 257,000 euros].
At the other end of Bulgaria, at Dunav Most, the main border crossing with Romania on the Danube Bridge also hopes to benefit from more resources. Bulgarian officials are most worried by what will happen during the wait to carry out renovations on the Romanian side of the river. “We’re bound to end up with huge traffic jams and endless columns of trucks,” fears Vesko Marinov, deputy governor of the Bulgarian district of Ruse.
With Schengen looming, this entire frontier post must be redesigned to meet the requirements of the single border control between EU member countries. The facilities have become obsolete, while new construction is becoming urgent. The work here is estimated at five million levas, by far the biggest sum spent to benefit from the “Member of the Schengen Area” badge.