Bulgaria Still Not Ready for Schengen Visa System

Екип на Биволъ

Despite the optimistic statements by the Bulgarian authorities that the country is technically fully ready to join the Schengen area, the reality is another, according to official answers by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to questions under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA). Bulgaria is still not ready to issue Schengen visas, as there is no complete connection with the Schengen visa system, Visa Code Plus. There is still no announced public procurement for integration with the system, and the first real data transfer tests are foreseen for an unknown date in 2019.

This means that even if Bulgaria is to be admitted to Schengen tomorrow, it will not be technically able to issue Schengen visas at least in the next six months. Currently, Bulgaria can check through the so-called passive access, available at border crossing points and the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) only whether Schengen visas issued by other countries are valid. But since it has no right to write in the system, it cannot issue visas that are accepted by other Member States.

To be admitted to the Schengen area, our country must have a functioning connection with three information systems: Visa SIS for wanted persons, Vis Mail 2 or Visa Code Plus for issuing Schengen visas and Eurodac for fingerprint checks of persons seeking asylum in the Member States. Currently, of the three systems only SIS works in real terms, but even it does it with some conditional provisions.

Bulgaria Still Not Ready for Schengen Visa SystemBulgaria Still Not Ready for Schengen Visa System

All other European Union (EU) countries, including Romania, have long been ready for the new Visa Code Plus visa issuance system and have successfully completed communication tests with it. These tests and the country’s readiness are a prerequisite for the accession that Bulgaria and Romania are waiting for. And Bulgaria not only has no functioning connection, but, as the answers made it clear, has not yet announced a public procurement tender for the full integration of the Visa Code Plus with the National Visa System.

The situation has not changed at all since August 2017, when Bivol published a story on the subject. It was already clear then that all deadlines had been missed, despite the commitment made to EU’s Lisa (the European Agency for the Operational Management of large-scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice). The criteria and terms for the integration are clearly outlined in documents that Bivol has examined: public procurement announcement on December 23, 2015; update of the National System and readiness for local tests on June 30, 2016; launch of tests with the Central European System on March 30, 2016, and production readiness by March 31, 2017. None of this has been done.

There is no connection, but there is spending

Moreover, the MFA has bought some time ago an expensive license for the Oracle Database Enterprise Edition – the database used by the Visa Code Plus, in view of the forthcoming integration with the National Visa System. However, the license fee had not been renewed after the initial payment, because the integration did not happen. So, this expenditure had been completely unnecessary.

The plans of the MFA now are to buy again the Oracle Database Enterprise Edition, for which, according to Bivol’s insider information, a public tender is due to be announced. The opinion of industry specialists is that this is another unnecessary expenditure, as a license for the Oracle Database Standard Edition is sufficient for tests and even for a real work environment. And when the load increases, the license can always be upgraded to the much more expensive version.

Besides licenses, however, a software for active access to Visa Code Plus is also required. This has already been provided completely free of charge by the EU’s Lisa, along with the installation instructions. It had been necessary to install the system on a server in the MFA and add a communication layer from the existing system VIS to Visa Code Plus. In 2017, a contract worth BGN 20,000 had even been signed with a Bulgarian company, but it had been canceled.

One can conclude that if this cheap integration had happened, there would have been no way to absorb some big money under the patriotic institutional push to meet the conditions imposed by Schengen. And the push and the public procurement, associated with it, are obviously yet to come.

There is also ongoing unreasonable spending for the National Visa System. It uses the Informix database in a 2012 version. Since then, the MFA has regularly paid substantial amounts for newer versions, although the license does not require it and the old version can be used.


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