EU proposes taking Romania, Bulgaria off visa list

BRUSSELS, Jan 27, 2000 -- (Reuters) The European Union executive body proposed on Wednesday that Bulgaria and Romania be taken off a black list of countries whose nationals need visas to visit the bloc.

The European Commission proposed the two countries be put on a list of 48 countries exempt from EU visa requirements to reflect the fact they have made efforts to meet EU security concerns and that they are about to join EU membership talks.

"This new situation, which reflects the qualitative leap forward in relations between Bulgaria and Romania and the European Union is a new factor in terms of international relations," the Commission proposal said.

The proposal will now go to EU governments and the European Parliament, who will have the last word.

On Tuesday the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said that Bulgaria had done better than Romania in tightening border controls and clamping down on false travel documents and forecast some EU member states might balk at taking Romania off the black list.

When deciding which countries should be spared visas for crossing the bloc's borders the EU takes into account concerns about illegal immigration and security.

Once admitted Bulgaria and Romania would control part of the EU's external border, a crossing point for countries of the former Soviet Union and Turkey.

The EU has already lifted visa requirements for other Eastern European candidate countries and Bulgaria and Romania have long argued they should be given free entry too to reflect the fact they are on the way to EU membership.

EU leaders agreed at a summit in Helsinki last month that the two countries, along with Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta, be admitted to EU membership talks. Talks are due to start on February 15.

The six countries will join Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus, which joined EU talks in March 1998.

The Commission said that in recent years both countries had paid attention to border controls and false travel documents "and have achieved what can be regarded as generally satisfactory progress, albeit at different rates."

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