Last updated at 1:22 PM on 22nd December 2010
Germany and France have voiced their concerns to the European Commission over letting Bulgaria and Romania to join Europe's visa-free travel zone.
Both countries feel that it is too soon for them to sign the Schengen Agreement and that a wrong decision could have 'grave consequences' for the bloc's security.
But the warning by Europe's political and economic heavyweights received an angry reception in the continent's southeast where Romania's president, Traian Băsescu, sharply criticised it as 'discrimination'.
Visa-free: The Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985, allows more than 400 million citizens to travel without border checks within the so-called Schengen Area
A spokesman for Germany's interior ministry said minister Thomas de Maiziere and his French counterpart Brice Hortefeux agree the two countries, which joined the EU in 2007, do not yet fulfill the requirements for entering the continent's visa-free travel zone.
More than 400 million citizens are able to travel without border checks within the so-called Schengen Area, which covers 25 EU member states, as well as three non-EU members - Iceland, Norway and Switzerland - but does not include Britain and Ireland.
Living outside the Schengen Area - named after the small wine-making village and commune in far south-eastern Luxembourg where the agreement was signed in 1985 - means more hassle for travellers and doing business is more complicated.
Checks: The Schengen Area covers 25 EU member states, as well as three non-EU members - Iceland, Norway and Switzerland
Concerns: German minister Thomas de Maiziere (left) and Brice Hortefeux, France's Interior Minister (right), don't believe Bulgaria and Germany should be allowed to enter the Schengen Area just yet
But joining the visa-free travel zone is also a highly symbolical matter and people outside the Schengen borders have referred to them as 'Europe's last wall'.
The German and French ministers criticise the lack of 'recognisable and sustainable progress' by Romania and Bulgaria in reforming their judiciary as well as in tackling corruption and organised crime.
Those deficits could have 'grave consequences for the European Union's security' and therefore lead to skepticism regarding an 'overly swift' adhesion to the Schengen area, said the spokesman.
Expelled: Hundreds of Roma gypsies were sent back to Bulgaria and Romania after France announced a hard-line policy
Security concerns: Nicolas Sarkozy agreed with the foreign policy, worried about the Romas' crime and dismantled hundreds of their shantytowns
'There is also understanding for the high political and symbolical significance of abandoning border controls in Bulgaria and Romania,' he said.
The debate also draws attention again to France's spat with Bulgaria and Romania earlier this year about the expulsion of their Roma citizens.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has linked Roma, or Gypsies, to crime, dismantled hundreds of their shantytowns and expelled more than 1,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria this year.
The issue was not mentioned yesterday, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel in October had vowed during a visit to Sofia and Bucharest that the expulsions would not influence the decision on both countries' Schengen admission.
Angry: Romanian President Traian Basescu said: 'We won't accept discrimination from anyone, not even from the most powerful members of the European Union.'
No specific date has been set for the two countries' admission to the visa-free zone, but Romania and Bulgaria have been pushing for an adhesion by spring 2011.
Tough line: French President Nicolas Sarkozy kicked out more than 1,000 Roma gypies earlier this year
The letter was sent to Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem and to the outgoing and incoming rotating EU presidency, Belgium and Hungary.
Michele Cercone, a spokesman for the EU's Malmstroem, confirmed that the Commission had received a letter from France and Germany, but declined to comment on the letter's content.
He added the member states, and not the Commission, will jointly decide whether Romania and Bulgaria will be allowed into the Schengen area.
But Romania's President Traian Băsescu reacted angrily to the letter, and said: 'We won't accept discrimination from anyone, not even from the most powerful members of the European Union.'
He claimed Romania had fulfilled the 'technical' conditions, meaning post-accession reforms, to enter the travel free zone within the EU.
He conceded Romania had 'major problems' with its justice system, but said the 'two ministers have a discriminatory attitude toward Romania and Romanians' and had some facts wrong.
An EU diplomat in Brussels, meanwhile, said Germany and France are pushing to take a progress report on the countries' fight against corruption and organised crime due in February into account when deciding about their Schengen adhesion.
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