France: delay passport-free travel for Romania and Bulgaria

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France said Friday that Bulgaria and Romania had not done enough to seal the frontiers of the European Union and should not be allowed to join the border-free Schengen area until at least July next year.

The countries had hoped to be allowed to join the Schengen treaty area, within which there are no border passport controls between European Union members, as early as March 2011.

But France, which is involved in a separate row with Romania and Bulgaria over its forced repatriation of Roma Gypsies, does not think they have done enough to stop illegal immigration from outside the EU.

"We think it would be best to wait for the presentation of the next Commission report on the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification in July," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The European Commission's Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification measures the new member states' progress towards fighting corruption and organised crime and reforming their judiciaries.

This year's report said Bulgaria and Romania had made progress in these areas, but still had work to do to match EU norms, Valero noted.

On Wednesday, France's minister for European affairs, Pierre Lellouche said Romania had not done enough to secure its border with Moldova and warned that Paris would seek to delay its entry into Schengen until next summer.

Romania's President Traian Basescu said Thursday that its entry into the Schengen zone was on track for next spring, despite Lellouche's remarks.

Basescu said that neither France, the Netherlands or Germany had opposed the transmission to the European parliament of a decision in favour of entry.

Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said his country would meet technical requirements for the slated March entry, but was aware that the political environment in Europe may lead to a delay.

The Schengen Agreement, named after the Luxembourg town where it was initiated, creates a borderless zone encompassing almost all EU countries bar Britain, Ireland and Cyprus.

© 2010 AFP

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