BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's president said Thursday the country should do more to tackle corruption if it wants to join Europe's open border area.
President Traian Basescu told The Associated Press that tackling the issue "is a test for the Romanian political class.
"Is it willing to sacrifice two or three corrupt officials for obstructing the national interest or not?" he said in an interview at the 17th-century Cotroceni presidential palace.
Basescu says joining the Schengen zone, made up of 26 countries including a few that are not European Union members, should become a national priority for the country of 19 million. Romania joined the EU in 2007.
The Netherlands has led opposition to Romania and Bulgaria joining the borderless free-travel zone, arguing that it would lead to an increase in organized crime and corruption.
Basescu said it was politically important to have Romania within the Schengen area.
"If our entrance in Schengen ... depends on a minister who's involved in a criminal lawsuit, or the law about the statute of lawmakers or whatever other demands, these are minor issues compared to the importance of becoming a country that is in Schengen," he said.
"Let's answer this positively and make it a national objective to join the Schengen zone."
Basescu, a former ship captain who entered politics shortly after the overthrow of late Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu, has survived two impeachment bids against him since he came to power in 2004 and was re-elected five years later.
About 7 million Romanians voted to remove him from office in July on grounds that he had overstepped the constitution by meddling in government affairs, but he survived because the turnout was too low. The center-left government which initiated the impeachment was criticized by the EU and Washington for not respecting the rule of law in its bid to unseat the 62-year-old president.
He declined to be drawn on whether Romania, which implemented harsh austerity measures in 2010 to secure a €20 billion ($26.07 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the EU and World Bank, would give up plans to adopt the euro in 2015, saying a decision would be made in the coming days.
"Entering the eurozone should be a really big ambition of ours. We need to make an analysis these days and to take a decision if we maintain the deadline (of 2015) or should we delay it by a year or two. "
Basescu called on Moldovans, of whom three-fourths are of Romanian descent, to move closer to the EU. The government collapsed Tuesday in a confidence vote over rivalries within the ruling pro-European coalition. The vote has called into question whether the former Soviet republic will now move closer to Moscow in line with the policies of the opposition Communists.
"We are aware of what's going on in Chisinau and we hope very much to find a compromise between the political parties of the governing alliance because otherwise Moldova has a lot to lose," Basescu said. He added that Moldova needed to sign a free trade agreement with the EU calling it "One of the most important steps in the process of getting closer to the EU."