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The EU has postponed a key meeting that would have considered Romania’s accession to the Schengen area.
The meeting of EU Justice and Internal Affairs ministers, scheduled for September 19-20, has been delayed till the end of the year, again delaying Romania's and Bulgaria’s hopes of entering the passport-free Schengen area, it was announced on Wednesday.
The Cypriot presidency of the European Union requested the delay on the grounds that few of the internal affairs topics for discussion had reached the decision-making stage.
Officials said the news was not a big setback for Romania as its prospects of joining the Schengen area remained cloudy.
“Several European countries would still have opposed Romania's and Bulgaria’s entry to Schengen area”, the European Affairs Minister, Leonard Orban, said.
For his part, President Traian Basescu blamed his opponents for the delay, saying the hold-up might be a consequence of the political crisis that erupted in Romania this summer when he was suspended from his post.
“The process of joining the Schengen area has been suspended mainly as a result of the internal situation in Romania," he claimed.
"We will see what should be done in order to shorten the time until the country joins the Schengen area,” he added.
Romania and its southern neighbour, Bulgaria, hoped to join Europe's borderless zone in 2010.
But their bids met resistance from several powerful Schengen members, including The Netherlands and France.
Opponents argued that the two countries had not yet met EU requirements on fighting corruption and organized crime and on securing Europe's external borders.
In recent months, Bucharest has insisted that it meets all the technical criteria needed to control its more than 2,000km-long border, including with two non-EU countries, Ukraine and Moldova.
For several months, Romania has experienced political turbulence as the centre-left government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta has battled to remove President Basescu.
In a referendum on July 29, most voters favoured impeaching the President. However, as the turnout was below the 50-per-cent threshold needed for the result to be valid, the President has remained at his post.
European Union officials expressed considerable disquiet over recent events in Romania, questioning the Ponta government's commitment to the rule of law and democracy.
To keep its reform policy credible for investors, the government must find common ground with the IMF and look for a new arrangement, experts say.