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EU interior ministers decided on Thursday to keep Schengen hopefuls Bulgaria and Romania out of Europe's borderfree zone, a day after the European Parliament approved their bid.
In a move effectively determined by opposition from the Netherlands, the European Union decided to keep the two youngest EU members out of the Schengen zone, even though they have met all technical requirements.
The EU needs unanimity to approve the countries' bids.
The Netherlands will come up with a stance on Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen bids in 2012, following a test period for the two countries, Immigration Minister Gerd Leers announced earlier on Thursday.
European Union interior ministers met in Luxembourg just a day after the non-binding vote of the European Parliament, which allowed Bulgarians and Romanians to travel across Europe without a passport.
The ministers acknowledged that Bulgaria and Romania's border controls have risen up to meet Schengen standards, but the decision for a date for their entry into the system was delayed due to concerns over their ability to control their borders with non-EU neighbors.
The Dutch Minister said his country would demand that the two Balkan states be able to effectively guard collective borders, and concerns were also raised over corruption and weak justice systems.
"It is too early to take a decision now, and it may take some time," Dutch Immigration Minister Leers was quoted by the AP as saying. "It is imperative that all adopted judicial reform measures in Romania and Bulgaria are effective and irreversible."
The next monitoring report from the European Commission on justice reforms and the fight against corruption in Bulgaria and Romania is due in July 2011.
"We will carefully study the report," Leers said, highlighting that the Dutch government would take more time to decide.
The test period is expected to last until the next cooperation and verification mechanism report, due in 2012, a Dutch source speaking on condition of anonymity specified.
Bulgaria and Romania, which have been coupled ever since their joint accession to the European Union in 2007, had originally hoped to enter the border-less zone in March this year.
Bulgarian experts are unanimous that the country meets the technical requirements. The real problem, they say, is the threat of information leakages and Greece's porous border with Turkey.
Analysts say the reluctance of France, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria to let the Balkan country join the Agreement in 2011 is both because of domestic politics and because they believe the countries' entry into Schengen would be premature, like their EU entry.
Bucharest still hopes to enter Europe’s visa-free zone this year, but EU worries about the growing flow of migrants may make it even harder.
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