Nehammer’s Heat Level is MILD after Denying Schengen access to Bulgaria and Romania

  • EU countries agreed that Croatia could join the Schengen zone — but Austrian Chancellor Nehammer vetoed Romania and Bulgaria’s entry.
  • A clear attempt from Nehammer to prove to the Austrian public that he is a reliable Chancellor committed to the immigration crisis. 
  • The veto is challenging EU dynamics.
Karl Nehammer
EPP Political Assembly, 20 March 2019 (CC BY 2.0)

Why is Nehammer’s Heat Level Mild?

Answer: The Austrian Chancellor vetoed the entry of two applicants to the Schengen zone, Romania and Bulgaria.

On the 8th of December 2022, votes took place regarding Croatia’s, Bulgaria’s, and Romania’s entry to the Schengen zone. Croatia received the green light, however, Bulgaria and Romania did not. While Bucharest managed to overcome resistance, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer vetoed both Bulgaria’s and Romania’s attempts to join. This is despite the European Commission making it clear that all three countries meet the technical criteria required for membership, since both countries successfully completed the Schengen evaluation process in 2011.

According to Nehammer, “Austria has more than 75,000 migrants, and Austrian police investigations discovered that 20,000 illegal migrants passed through Romania.” For Nehammer, “Schengen makes sense if the EU’s external borders are so well protected that there are no problems inside the zone.” Thus, the chancellor sees Bulgaria as a weak point on the future border of the Schengen zone.

The Chancellor called on the European Union to support Bulgaria with two billion euros so that the EU’s external borders can be protected. Moreover, Nehammer and Interior Minister Gerhard Karner visited Bulgaria and assured Austria’s support in protecting the border with Turkey.

Nevertheless, Nehammer veto decision leaves him at “Mild” since Bulgaria, Romania, as well as the EU commission and other EU member states, oppose his Schengen veto. Seeing both States able to enter the Schengen zone given that they have successfully completed the evaluation process. However, despite their displeasure, these parties are left with no other option than to accept Nehammers’s veto. Hence, it is yet to be seen if Bulgaria and Romania will reapply to the Schengen free-travel area.

Who is changing Nehammer’s heat level?

Answer: The ÖVP  corruption scandals, which have left Nehammer’s Chancellorship and his Party with a hard-to-repair image, and the EU Commission which is voicing criticism.

As soon as former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was forced to leave office due to corruption allegations, former Senior Lieutenant Karl Nehammer ascended to the new Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) Chancellorship. The Kurz scandal, however, is simply too polarising to overcome. Since, Nehammer did not manage to build distance between himself, Kurz and his corruption-suspicious. 

The Austrian Chancellor made Kurz’s intimate Gerald Fleischmann head of communications for the Austrian People’s Party, if further corruption investigations uncover additional incriminating facts, the party and the chancellor will continue to suffer. On top of this, the Court of Audit accused the Austrian People’s Party of breaking the campaign ceiling of seven million euros during the last parliamentary election campaign in 2019. Thus, incriminating Nehammer personally since he was in charge of the campaign for Kurz at the time. 

Nehammer’s strategy illustrates the extent to which the ÖVP is committed to going in order to re-establish its credibility. However, he is playing poker with his popularity since the EU and many member states have clearly expressed their disappointment with the Chancellor’s veto. Such as the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, “There is no justifiable reason not to welcome Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area.” 

Moreover, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn was one of the first to come out and say that he expects Vienna to lift its veto against Bulgaria and Romania in due time. However, Nehammer is standing his ground by going as far as threatening the EU Summit this week, stating he would block the joint final declaration if no concrete agreements on the EU migration issues are reached, thus actively positioning himself against the EU.  

What is driving Karl Nehammer?

Answer: Nehammer is battling omnishambles and needs to recuperate the Austrian public’s faith in the ÖVP. Hence, he is driven by Austrian domestic political affairs.

Nehammer’s party, the ÖVP, is a Christian-democratic and liberal-conservative party that has taken a protectionist approach regarding illegal immigration. When Nehammer became Chancellor he took on the responsibility to reestablish the Party’s image and pledged to save the country from illegal immigration. Reiterating that he would “hold the line” when it comes to the ÖVP’s hardline positions on migration and security.

Hence, the Chancellor used the veto as an opportunity to employ foreign policy as a prop in domestic politics. Making Nehammer’s veto purely political, a clear attempt to show the Austrian public that he is a reliable Chancellor committed to the immigration crisis. Thus, Nehammer’s veto was not as much against Bulgaria or Romania as it was to clean up his Party’s image while reestablishing its political rhetoric against illegal immigration. 

Furthermore he is on a mission to re-establish trust and political faith in the ÖVP. According to recent polls, the People’s Party is in third place behind the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party. Therefore, the Chancellor has to play a strategic game to recuperate his Party’s damaged image until 2024, which would be the next scheduled election. However, the Chancellors party recently lost votes to right-wing nationalists in a key provincial election, signaling that support for Nehammer is fading since the veto.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Entering Schengen seems unattainable for Bulgaria and Romania. The Chancellor’s veto has resulted in unwanted EU political turmoil.

Nehammer’s veto is creating disillusionment in the process of European integration. Maintaining internal border controls could be understood as discriminatory, hence, deepening the feeling that they remain second-class members,’ especially since they have met all entry requirements.

The EU Commission is increasingly speaking of a “security union,” which should provide an incentive for a secure EU with active participation by all member states. However, the lack of consensus on this decision has hampered the way to a more integrated EU.