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Finns, Dutch block Bulgaria, Romania Schengen entry

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(BRUSSELS) - Finland and the Netherlands are resisting Bulgarian and Romanian bids to join Europe's passport-free travel zone, kicking the hot-button issue to an EU summit next month, diplomats said Wednesday.

EU interior ministers will debate the candidacies of the two former communist states at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday, but the Dutch and Finnish governments have made clear they would veto the bids, the sources said.

Romania and Bulgaria are under pressure from fellow EU states to make progress in their battles against corruption and organised crime before they are welcomed into the 25-nation borderless region.

Poland, current chair of the council of EU states, has struggled to sell a "two-step" compromise in which air and sea borders would open first this year while a decision on when to open land borders would be delayed to next year.

The Dutch and Finnish governments, under pressure from their parliaments, refuse to accept even a partial opening of the borders, diplomats said. Since Schengen's enlargement requires unanimous consent, the bids will fail Thursday.

"The topic is very sensitive in certain states," said a source in the Polish presidency of the EU.

"Poland will do its utmost to find a solution before the summit of EU leaders" on October 17-18, another source said.

Several diplomats, however, said a solution was unlikely before the summit, which would force presidents and prime ministers to make a decision.

Both houses of the Romanian parliament in an all-party statement noted with concern and disapproval the "decision of parliaments and governments of certain states" to keep Romania out of the Schengen area.

It said that Bucharest had fulfilled all the technical requirements and called for a "just" decision by the EU.

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