Netherlands has reservations about Bulgaria Schengen bid

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Bulgaria must do more than simply meet the technical criteria if it wants to join Europe's visa-free Schengen area, the Netherlands' European Affairs Minister Ben Knapen said Thursday.

"Obviously, the opening and guarding of borders is not just about technical standards. It is also about the rule of law and the functioning and the capacity of the judicial system," Knapen said following talks with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov.

Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania hope to join the Schengen zone in 2011, but face strong opposition from France, Germany and other EU members, which want to see more tangible results in the two countries' fight against crime and corruption.

The European Commission is scheduled to publish its next monitoring report on justice reforms and corruption in the two Balkan countries this summer and Knapen said the Netherlands would make its decision dependant on the findings of that report.

"For us, what is pivotal is to be sure that the progress here is lasting, sustainable and irreversible and we want to be convinced that that is the case," he said.

"Of course, we understand these are things you cannot do overnight, but you are working hard on that," the minister said.

There was "no doubt" about the Bulgarian government's political will and motivation, he said, complimenting the administration for its efforts.

But Knapen insisted: "My country emphasizes that we use all available means to make sure that the rule of law prevails in all European member states."

Mladenov, for his part, promised that Bulgaria would not ease up in its efforts, even once it had joined the Schengen zone.

"Border control is a priority of the Bulgarian government and is important for our own security," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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