Germany hopeful for Romania, Bulgaria Schengen progress

5th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday he was hopeful Romania and Bulgaria could make progress toward entry into the passport-free Schengen area despite continued resistance.

After talks with his Romanian counterpart Teodor Baconschi in Berlin, Westerwelle said Bucharest could count on Germany's continued backing in attempts to wear down the opposition of the Netherlands and Finland.

"The German government is counting on, working on and hoping for a further step toward full membership in the Schengen area for Romania and Bulgaria this year," he told reporters.

Westerwelle said he recognised that both countries must still make "greater progress in fighting corruption and organised crime" -- factors cited by the Dutch and the Finns in refusing to let them in.

But the German minister, who held talks in The Hague Tuesday with his Dutch counterpart Uri Rosenthal, said Berlin was working toward a "solution" at the next EU summit on October 17.

Baconschi lamented the lingering resistance, saying Romanians were "committed Europeans and committed to the rules" of the Schengen zone.

"We hope at the next European summit that the appropriate conclusions will be drawn," he said.

Finland and the Netherlands blocked the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the passport-free Schengen travel area at a meeting of EU interior ministers last month.

The ministers did not vote, sending a decision to this month's EU summit, but the Dutch government indicated it was unlikely to change its mind. Schengen's enlargement requires unanimous consent.

Schengen, an area stretching from Portugal to Poland, through which road, rail and even air travellers need only basic identity papers to move freely, has come under growing strain this year over fears about illegal migration.

Romania has accused the Dutch centre-right government of being held hostage to the far-right, as it rules with the backing of Geert Wilders' Freedom Party. In Finland, the far-right True Finns made major gains in recent elections.

© 2011 AFP

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