Bulgaria, Romania distance Roma issue from Schengen entry

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Bulgaria and Romania insisted that the problem of Roma minorities should not impact their entry into the visa-free Schengen area next year, at a meeting of their presidents in Sofia Thursday.

"The first priority (for Romania and Bulgaria) within the EU is adhesion to the Schengen area March 2011," Romanian President Traian Basescu said.

"We categorically oppose direct or indirect links being made with other issues, notably the Roma," he said.

Bulgarian leader Georgy Parvanov added that the integration of minority groups could not constitute a criteria for entry into Schengen.

The leaders were meeting for the first time since France's summer crackdown on Roma emcampments and expulsions back to Romania and Bulgaria, which drew widespread criticism and even EU threats of legal action.

Basescu urged a strategy of integration of Roma and other gypsies at a European level, calling on member states to "get out of the hypocrisy."

He added that sanctions and expulsions on the basis of ethnic background are unacceptable, alluding to France's actions.

"When the nomadic Roma set up camps, whether it be in Sofia, Bucharest or Paris, it is necessary to create for them seasonal work, provide medical assistance and send their children to school," he said, adding that some gypsies were settled and integrated.

The left-leaning Parvanov has hit out at French authorities over the Roma expulsions, but his more conservative prime minister, Boiko Borissov, has said he saw no problem with France.

Borissov has also distanced his country from Romania, saying that its entry into the Schengen area is not comparable since only some 50 gypsies returned to Bulgaria, whilst hundreds more returned to Romania.

© 2010 AFP

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