BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians and Bulgarians were disappointed and angry Friday after an EU decision that keeps them out of Europe's borderless travel zone even though they met the technical requirements.
The move by EU interior ministers came amid increasing fears of illegal immigration and crime across the continent and put further pressure on the Schengen system of unfettered travel across 26 European nations.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said EU nations were concerned that "corruption may thrive in these (two) countries and thus can weaken the protection of the borders."
Romanian political commentator Stelian Tanase called the decision "the greatest foreign policy failure of the government in Bucharest in the last 20 years."
"Officials in Bucharest were telling us that we would get in, but it was just talk and no action," he told The Associated Press.
Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi summoned Dutch Ambassador Tanya van Gool after Thursday's decision because of the Dutch EU ambassador's comments that Romania's justice system was still unsatisfactory.
In Bulgaria, the English-language weekly Sofia Echo called the saga "an embarrassment for Sofia."
Bulgaria and Romania were given a cold shoulder by the EU ministers only one day after the EU parliament voted to let them in the Schengen system.
The Netherlands blocked the move by holding off on any decision, since there still was doubt whether Bulgaria and Romania were strong enough to assure effective control of the external border of the Schengen zone.
Romania launched a crackdown on customs officials and border police this year who are accused of turning a blind eye to cigarette smuggling, arresting about 180 people.
However, critics said the effort was too little, too late.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said Friday he hoped "Dutch authorities will be open and honest and appreciate Bulgaria's and Romania's efforts to join Schengen."
Some Romanians said the decision was inevitable.
"We have no right to sulk because they rejected us," said Magdalena Miclaus, 42, who sells agricultural products. "With such incompetent leaders and such lazy citizens, that's what we deserve."