Romania, Netherlands lock horns in ‘war of the flowers’

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Spring visitors in the bright fields of tulips in the Netherlands. Photo - Gregory Dicum/NY Times

A Dutch MEP has accused Romania of blackmailing the Netherlands after more than a dozen truckloads of tulips were seized at the Romanian border.

“It looks like Romanian authorities have chosen the Dutch tulip a core product of the country’s economy, with a high symbolic value for a bit of old school blackmail,” said Dutch MEP Esther de Lange in a statement calling on Michel Barnier, the EU’s internal market commissioner, to look into the issue.

The seizure – the second since the weekend – comes after Holland threatened to block Romania’s entry into Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone.

Officials in Bucharest said the tulips could be contaminated with “dangerous bacteria”.

On Friday, Dutch immigration minister Gerd Leers said the Netherlands would block Romania’s entry into the Schengen visa-free travel zone because of its insufficient efforts in the fight against corruption.

NO LINK

On Monday, the Romanian authorities seized 15 trucks of Dutch bulbs and sent three of them back to the suppliers in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is the main supplier of flowers to the Romanian market, exporting nine million bulbs last year.

The dispute is being called “the war of the flowers” in the Netherlands.

But the Dutch economic affairs ministry has been careful not to criticise Romania.

Murco Mijnlieff of the Dutch economic affairs ministry said his government has asked Romanian authorities to explain why the shipment was halted.”We are still waiting for a response,” he said.

He added that his government “had no reason to suspect a link” between the halted shipments and the Schengen decision.

Sorin Cirti, of the Romanian financial guard, said tulip samples had been sent for laboratory tests.

De Lange said that if the tests showed there was a dangerous bacteria, she would want to see the results.

According to the Dutch central bureau for statistics, the Netherlands exported nearly 9m flower bulbs mainly tulips worth 683,000 (600,000) to Romania last year.

SCHENGEN LEGISLATION

Already delayed in March, the decision to let the two countries in has to be agreed unanimously. Technical evaluations have concluded that the two countries are ready to join, but enlargement-sceptical countries led by France, Germany and the Netherlands have demanded greater effort in fighting corruption before letting the two states in.

Berlin and Paris have meanwhile indicated they may agree with a phased-in entry, whereby airports in Romania and Bulgaria are first opened to Schengen traffic and land borders are lifted only at a later stage. But The Hague is opposing this move too.

“The position of the Dutch government is disappointing for us, although it is no surprise, given that its political survival is dependent on the populist and anti-migration PVV party,” Romanian foreign minister Theodor Baconschi said in a press statement.

“Unfortunately, it is another proof that EU rules are ignored as a result of strictly inner political considerations,” he added, calling the Dutch concerns “unjustified” and “artificial”.

He seemed confident, however, that a compromise will be reached on 22 September. “It is not a question of whether Romania will join, but when its land borders will be lifted,” he explained.

Bulgaria has also reacted to the Dutch opposition, warning it may block changes to the Schengen legislation if it is not admitted to the border-free area.

Member states are currently mulling ideas to change the Schengen rules on border controls following increased fears about immigration to Europe.

Sources: BBC, Guardian, euobserver

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