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Romania, Bulgaria Schengen entry a security risk: France

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(HELSINKI) - France's Minister for European Affairs Laurent Wauquiez said in Helsinki Thursday that a premature entry of Romania or Bulgaria into the Schengen zone could pose a security risk to Europe.

"If the database of information for the Schengen area were to end up in the hands of international criminals, it could do away with all of European internal security," he said, referring to the Schengen Information System, a vast reservoir of data on European citizens that is used for border control and national security.

France and Germany have opposed bids by Romania and Bulgaria to be accepted into the Schengen zone in the first half of this year, citing concerns with corruption and insufficient border controls.

Wauquiez said Bulgaria and Romania were major avenues for illegal movement of people and goods.

"This means illegal immigration, weapons smuggling, drug smuggling, and child trafficking," Wauquiez told reporters.

The minister's comments came a day after Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi insisted his country was ready, blasting the "false arguments and artificial links" France and Germany allegedly resorted to in order to block Romania's accession.

Finland's Migration and European Affairs Minister Astrid Thors said both Romania and Bulgaria had made improvements, but added both countries still needed to take "concrete actions to strengthen the battle against corruption and crime."

In Hungary meanwhile German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Thursday Berlin would continue to oppose Romania and Bulgaria entering the Schengen zone until the two countries had eliminated concerns about endemic corruption.

Bucharest and Sofia "have both made huge efforts to meet the technical requirements of the Schengen system. Those efforts are deserving of praise," he said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU interior and justice ministers in Godollo.

"At the same time, there are shortcomings and criticisms about the judiciary and about corruption" in the two countries, de Maiziere said.

"We believe it is important to link the two issues -- the technical aspects and the political aspects -- and make a decision taking both into consideration," he said.

"Romania is ready to join in March but we are realistic and we know we have to wait and see what other member states are saying," Romanian Interior Minister Traian Igas stressed after discussions with his counterparts.

"But we did fulfil the criteria put forward by member states," he insisted, while ruling out the possibility of joining the Schengen zone without Bulgaria.

Hungary -- which currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency -- said it supported Romania's entry into the Schengen zone, but Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said Wednesday Bulgaria was less ready.

The Schengen zone allows free movement between 25 European countries, making visas and passports unnecessary between their borders, putting the onus on states on the outside edge of the zone.

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