German and Romanian leaders meet
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Berlin on Thursday, where Iohannis made his case for citizens of EU-member Romania to travel visa-free in the Schengen Zone.
Romania, along with Bulgaria, joined the EU in 2007, but it was not until last year that citizens of both countries were allowed to move to other EU states to seek work. Romania also wants to join the 26-nation visa-free Schengen Zone, but some EU nations are worried about mass 'poverty migration' and organized crime heading west.
Iohannis said Romania was working to fulfil the Schengen accession requirements but needed help to go further.
"We need the support of Germany to achieve a solution in this direction," Iohannis said.
"We can solve every objection. We have another argument for this: the capacity of Romania to secure the outer border of the European Union."
For her part, Merkel remained cautious but gave the Romanians some hope.
"Romania has a legitimate desire to be part of the Schengen Zone. We'll see that we achieve step-by-step progress on this," Merkel said.
Both leaders said qualified professionals, not the poor, made up the bulk of those Romanians heading to Germany for better work opportunities. Iohannis said it was a problem that many did not see a future back home, and the government would have to find solutions to stem the brain drain.
Chancellor Merkel was asked whether she thought Russia may have its eye on Moldova, Romania's eastern neighbor, in a possible repeat of what has happened in Ukraine.
"Well, we hope not," Merkel said.
Iohannis said there were "no indications at the moment" that Moscow would interfere in Moldova.
However, the two said the focus was on Russian-speaking Transnistria, a part of Moldova that broke away during a short war in 1991-92, costing around 800 lives. Russia has maintained troops in the enclave of 550,000 people since 1992, despite a 1999 commitment to remove them.
Moldova has ratified a political and trade agreement with the EU. The separatist war in eastern Ukraine was partly sparked by Kyiv choosing a pro-EU stance - and policies similar to those being adopted by Moldova - over a future closer to Moscow, such as membership in a Russia-led customs bloc.
Merkel and Iohannis said that their countries felt "politically very closely linked to Moldova" and would support the new government of pro-European businessman Chiril Gaburici.
Moldova ranks as one of the poorest nations in Europe. Some 3.6 million people live in the nation wedged between Ukraine and Romania.
jr/msh (Reuters, dpa)