German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Thursday that Romania and Bulgaria are not yet ready to join the European Union's open-border Schengen area. The minister said further progress was needed.
Romania and Bulgaria wanted to join Schengen in March
At a meeting of European interior and justice ministers in Hungary, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere on Thursday said it would be "premature" to allow Romania and Bulgaria to join the EU's visa-free Schengen zone.
The minister said Germany would continue to oppose the countries joining Schengen until they had eliminated concerns about endemic corruption.
De Maiziere recognized that both countries "have made huge efforts to meet the technical requirements of the Schengen system." He added Bucharest and Sofia were "deserving of praise."
The interior minister said it would be 'premature' to allow both countries to join
However, he said there were also "shortcomings and criticisms about the judiciary and corruption." The countries must not only be "technically," but also "politically" ready to join the customs-free zone.
'Ready for March'
Bulgaria and Romania are the two newest members to the European Union, and both declared Schengen accession a national priority this year.
However, they look set to fail, as more than a dozen EU governments object to them joining the visa-free zone.
Romanian Interior Minister Traian Igas said Romania is ready to join in March, but they are "realistic" about their chances. "We know we have to wait and see what other member states are saying," Igas said after discussions with his counterparts.
In a joint letter to the European Commission in December, Germany and France both registered their opposition to the removal of border controls to Romania and Bulgaria. However, Hungary, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has expressed its support for the two nations.
The Schengen zone allows more than 400 million citizens of 25 member countries to move freely without border controls.
Author: Catherine Bolsover (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner