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France, Germany Stop Bulgaria, Romania Joining Schengen

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux
France and Germany have decided to block Bulgaria and Romania from joining Europe's passport-free 25-nation Schengen travel area next year.

A European Commission spokesman, Michele Cercone, said today that French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux and his German counterpart, Thomas de Maiziere, told the European Commission in a letter that it was "premature" to let them enter Schengen in March 2011.

Allowing a country to join Schengen must be agreed by member states unanimously.

In their letter to European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, the two ministers cited shortcomings in efforts by Bulgaria and Romania to battle corruption and organized crime.

President Traian Basescu called the move by France and Germany an "act of discrimination."

Basescu said the criteria for joining Schengen were strictly technical and Romania has fulfilled them.

Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it will "do its utmost to remove the doubts" over its plans to join Schengen.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007.

The Schengen area includes 22 of the EU's 27 members plus Iceland, Switzerland, and Norway.

compiled from agency reports