Bulgaria, Romania blocked from joining Schengen

21st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

France and Germany decided Tuesday to block Bulgaria and Romania from joining Europe's borderless 25-nation Schengen area next year, a move denounced by the Romanian president as discriminatory.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux and German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere told European home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem in a letter that it was "premature" to let them enter the passport-free travel area in March 2011.

The ministers said a decision on the applications would be made once the two former communist bloc nations make "irreversible progress" in the fight against corruption and organised crime, according a copy of the letter seen by AFP.

Romanian President Traian Basescu slammed the Franco-German move as "an act of discrimination."

Bulgaria's foreign ministry said the country would do its "utmost" to ease any doubts about its readiness to join, "including in the areas of the judicial system and society as a whole."

The Schengen area allows more than 400 million citizens to travel across a territory that ranges from Greece to Finland, and Portugal to Poland, without having to pull out a passport.

The area includes 22 of the European Union's 27 members plus Iceland, Switzerland and Norway.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. By choice, EU members Britain and Ireland have not joined the travel zone while Cyprus has applied to enter Schengen.

Experts from EU states who visited Romania and Bulgaria will present a report in January that will be used by governments to make a decision.

Allowing a country to join Schengen must be agreed by members states by unanimity, meaning that France and Germany have veto power over the applications.

The decision to block the entry of Romania and Bulgaria follows a summer row over France's deportation of Roma migrants from the two eastern European nations, although the issue was not cited as a reason for the Schengen veto.

Several diplomats close to EU negotiations complained that security concerns were swept under the rug in the talks that led to the accessions of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU in 2007.

"The chapters on security are the most difficult to negotiate with candidates," Malmstroem conceded at a news conference on Tuesday.

Concerns over security and illegal migration have also been raised in negotiations to lift visa requirements for non-EU countries from eastern Europe.

After visa rules were waved for the Serbia and Macedonia in December 2009, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands faced an influx of migrants -- mainly Roma and Albanian minorities -- seeking political asylum.

EU states agreed last month to extend visa-free travel rights to Albania and Bosnia but imposed a tight monitoring system with the threat of suspending the privilege in case of abuses.

© 2010 AFP

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