Hannes Swoboda, President of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament, has described as “populist and deceitful” Germany's threat to veto the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU’s border-free Schengen area.

Swoboda, an Austrian Socialist, insists that progress has been assessed in both countries and EU ministers should now abide by their own rules and finally grant Bulgaria and Romania full Schengen membership.

"The threat of a German veto is populist and deceitful," Swoboda said.

"It seems like the German government wants to divide EU countries into 'first class' and 'second class' member states. The S&D Group defends the principle of equality and demands full access to the Schengen area for all EU citizens. We urge the EU interior ministers to act responsibly and open the way to Schengen membership for Romania and Bulgaria."

The statement, published on the website of the S&D group, comes in reaction to declarations by German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who said his country would veto Romania and Bulgaria’s Schengen accession.

The issue is on the agenda of a meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers on 7 March.

In an interview he gave to Spiegel magazine, Friedrich said Bulgaria and Romania had to be “more decisive” in the fight against corruption. He argued that those who acquire a visa through bribery from those countries could travel all the way to Germany without further controls. The German minister also blamed Romanians and Bulgarians for “abusing the freedom of movement” in Europe and siphoning the German welfare system.

The European Commission and Parliament have considered Bulgaria and Romania fit to join Schengen since 2011. Their accession has been put on the agenda of several ministerial meetings, but has been blocked by the Netherlands. The Dutch position is that there should be at least two consecutive positive reports under the “Cooperation and Verification monitoring mechanism (CVM)", before such a decision is taken (see background). The Commission insists that CVM and Schengen accession are unrelated issues.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said he would not even ask for the vote to be held on Thursday because of the German veto threat, EurActiv Romania reported. On another occasion, he suggested his country could “lose interest” in joining Schengen altogether.

This does not mean that Romania would abandon its plans to join the Schengen area, but that authorities in Bucharest would focus on other European endeavours, Ponta said, as quoted by the Sofia Globe website.

Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlățean recently said that Germany was the main opponent to Romania (and Bulgaria) joining the Schengen area, because of the parliamentary elections in Germany, due in autumn.

Bulgaria, meanwhile, has been silent on the issue, maybe due to the transition in government following the Prime Minister's recent resignation. Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev is due to meet with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy tomorrow (6 March).