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News 21 Feb 13

Bulgaria Turmoil 'May Hit Romania's Schengen Bid'

As the EU ponders Romania’s desire to join the passport-free Schengen area, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta voices concern that instability in Bulgaria may affect its chances.

Marian Chiriac
Bucharest

“The European Commission’s decision next month on Romania  and Bulgaria joining the Schengen area will surely be negatively influenced by the current instability in our neighbour,” Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said on Wednesday.

He added that the two Balkan countries are normally linked together when discussing their possible entery into the Schengen area.

“The current protests in Sofia are quite similar to those in Romania a year ago and are fed by people’s disappointment over falling living standards,” Ponta added.

The Bulgarian government resigned on Wednesday following violent public protests in the capital and other cities over rises in the price of electricity.

Last February, Romania's then Prime Minister, Emil Boc, resigned following mass protests, also against high prices and falling wages.

Harsh austerity measures prompted Romanians to take to the streets, demanding the resignation of both the government and President Traian Basescu.

Months of political instability followed, as the new centre-left government under Ponta battled in vain to remove President Basescu.

As European Union officials expressed disquiet over events in Romania, questioning the Ponta government's commitment to the rule of law and democracy, the EU postponed a key meeting due to consider Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area.

A new meeting of EU Justice and Internal Affairs ministers is scheduled to take place on March 6.

Romania and Bulgaria had hoped to join the borderless zone back in 2010. But their bids met resistance from several Schengen members, including The Netherlands and France.

They argued that the two countries had not yet met EU requirements on fighting corruption and organized crime and on securing Europe's external borders.

Bucharest has since 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.

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