EU delays Schengen decision for Bulgaria, Romania
(BRUSSELS) - The European Union will delay until September a decision on whether to let Romania and Bulgaria into the bloc's passport-free Schengen zone, EU president Herman van Rompuy said Thursday.
A meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers from the 27-nation bloc will "adopt its decision in September," Van Rompuy said at the close of the first of a two-day summit.
Any move to expand the 25-nation Schengen area, home to 400 million Europeans who can cross borders without a passport, needs a unanimous vote but the Netherlands has staunchly opposed including the two countries.
Both had hoped to join Schengen as early as last year.
But on joining the summit of EU leaders, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte doused their hopes, saying: "We believe that Bulgaria and Romania have not done enough."
Leaving the door open to a positive outcome, Van Rompuy told a news conference that ministers would be tasked "to identify and implement measures which will lead to the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria."
"We will work on a package of reassuring measures," he added.
"I have the feeling now that there is a strong political will to finalise the work in September and when there is a political will, we can have a positive result -- if of course a certain number of conditions are met."
A European Commission report last month praised Romania for progress while demanding stronger action from Bulgaria, triggering hopes in Bucharest that the EU summit might disassociate the two when the matter came up at the summit.
However, the report urged both to take more action against corruption and organised crime.
Bulgaria's government reacted by pledging urgent measures to address remaining criticism of its slow judicial and police sector reforms.
Consistent Dutch opposition to the pair's entry has sparked a war of words between the Hague and Bucharest, with Romania's President Traian Basescu last month calling for a stop to what he termed Dutch "abuse" of his country and Bulgaria.
Basescu said he was "worried" to see "anti-European parties entering governments".
Romanian authorities have accused the Dutch government of being a hostage to Geert Wilders' anti-immigrant far-right party, which supports the ruling coalition.
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