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The European Union has again postponed a decision on Romania's and Bulgaria's accession to the passport-free Schengen zone.
The European Council for Justice and Home Affairs, JHA, on Thursday postponed to the end of 2013 a decision on the admission of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area.
“As several nations have reserves or concerns, we decided not to push for a vote in the JHA. But a decision should be made by year end, and most likely will speak about the gradual integration of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen space”, Radu Stroe, the Romanian Interior Minister, said after the meeting.
Joining the border-free area requires a unanimous vote of its current 26 members, four of which - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland - are non-EU members. Of the 27 EU states, Britain, Cyprus and Ireland have not joined.
Romania and its southern neighbour, Bulgaria, had hoped to join the borderless zone back in 2010.
Several nations, most recently Germany and Finland, publicly expressed opposition to Bulgaria and Romania, saying both countries have serious corruption issues, and thus do not meet key conditions for Schengen admission.
Romania recently insisted that it now meets all the technical criteria needed to control its more than 2,000km-long border, including with two non-EU countries, Ukraine and Moldova.
At the same time, the centre-left government says that joining the Schengen area is no longer a national priority.
"The government has done everything it can so that the decision [on joining the Schengen area]... is positive and I still have hopes for that," Prime Minister Victor Ponta said recently.
For his part, President Traian Basescu has blamed political opponents in the Ponta government for the delay, saying the hold-up might be a consequence of the political crisis that erupted in Romania last summer when he was suspended from his post.
Analyst say the new delay in letting Romania into the Schengen area poses a question mark over the future of the 2014 deadline, when the EU labour market is to be freed up for all Romanians.
“It is possible some extra mechanisms may appear to deter Romanians from working freely across the EU... this would indeed be a disaster,” political analyst Mircea Geoana said.
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