Belgium backs Bulgaria's Schengen bid, corruption crackdown
Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said Wednesday he backed Bulgaria's bid to join the European visa-free Schengen travel zone and also supported Sofia's judicial reforms and crackdown on corruption.
"The Belgian government supports the ambition of Bulgaria to be part of the Schengen area as soon as possible," Leterme told journalists after talks with his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov.
Almost all European Union (EU) countries are members of this area of free movement of people, except for Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus.
Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania hope to join the zone in March 2011.
But their bids have recently faced stiff opposition from France following a spat over a decision by Paris to forcibly repatriate thousands of illegal Bulgarian and Romanian Roma migrants.
Bulgaria and Romania, which both joined the EU in 2007, are still under strict monitoring by Brussels in the areas of internal affairs and judicial reform.
And France argues their accession to the Schengen area should be postponed until Brussels publishes its latest reports on both countries' efforts in these areas.
But Bulgarian premier Borisov said the two issues should be separate.
While Sofia felt monitoring could continue as a way of keeping up pressure on the judiciary to reform, "I can assure you that Bulgaria's borders are now much more secure than many of the current Schengen borders," Borisov said.
© 2010 AFP