WSJ: Bulgaria, Romania Schengen Negotiations to Remain Blocked*Views on BG | September 23, 2011, Friday // 08:05| views
Bulgarian border policemen with a dog patrol along the wire fence near Kapitan Andreevo border crossing point between Bulgaria and Turkey some 300km from Sofia, 11 February 2011. Photo by EPA/BGNES
By Frances Robinson
Wall Street Journal
Bulgaria and Romania, the European Union's newest members, were kept outside of the bloc's passport-free Schengen travel zone Thursday after the Dutch and Finnish governments blocked plans to let them in.
The decision—which ministers didn't vote on—came at a meeting of interior ministers here. The Schengen agreement, named after a village in Luxembourg, removes internal borders among 22 EU member countries plus Iceland, Switzerland and Norway.
A European diplomat familiar with the discussions said the Netherlands and Finland were behind the blocking of the two countries' accession. The two have previously spoken out against the two newest EU member states joining the zone, where EU citizens can travel using only proof of identity, and not a passport.
The diplomat said that while the issue could be discussed when EU heads of state and government meet here next month, it is likely the negotiations will remain blocked.
The objections weren't a surprise. "Finland considers that it is yet too early to make a decision on the accession of these two states to the Schengen area," Finland's Minister of the Interior P?ivi R?s?nen said in a statement, adding that the countries must do more on combating corruption and improving the judicial system. "The states still have room for improvement in these areas."
But Polish interior minister Jerzy Miller said the two countries, which joined the EU in 2007, had made great strides. "It should be emphasized that both Bulgaria and Romania have made remarkable progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime," he said.
"This evokes in me above all rather sad conclusions on mutual trust between EU member states," said Mr. Miller, whose country holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency. "When Bulgaria and Romania signed the accession treaties they had been given [a] promise that if they fulfilled the defined conditions they would become members of the Schengen area."
Immigration and border controls are one of the bloc's most contentious issues. The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, is seeking to reform the Schengen area after disputes between member states over refugees fleeing the chaos in the wake of the Arab Spring erupted this summer.
Last week, the French, German and Spanish governments issued a statement warning the commission to respect their authority over security matters, calling this a "core area of national sovereignty."
The decision to leave Romania and Bulgaria out was also criticized by the president of the European Parliament, saying the two countries meet the technical requirements.
"I regret today's delay in Romania and Bulgaria Schengen accession," Jerzy Buzek said in a statement.
"We call on those Member States that blocked Romanian and Bulgaria Schengen entry to reconsider their position."
The Finnish government also said it didn't support a compromise under which accession to Schengen would take place in two phases, with border checks lifted first at air and sea borders and later at land borders.
*The title of the article has been changed by the Editorial Staff of Novinite.com
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