By Sebastian Moffett
BRUSSELS, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Romania and Bulgaria have not done enough to gain the unanimous approval needed to join Europe's Schengen passport-free zone, the Netherlands said on Wednesday.
The European Union's newest and poorest member states, Romania and Bulgaria have to convince all EU members that their government, judiciary and border controls meet the required standards if they are to become members of the zone.
"Progress is visible in both countries, especially in Romania," Dutch Europe Minister Ben Knapen said in a statement. "It is a step forward but more needs to be done."
The statement came two days after Emil Boc resigned as Romania's prime minister after protests against austerity, and followed a regular report on the countries by the European Commission, the EU's executive.
The report praised progress made by the two former Soviet states on judicial reform and on combating corruption and crime. But the commission said "certain weaknesses remained" on those fronts in both countries.
Schengen has become unpopular with immigration-wary EU voters over the past two years.
A particular concern is that Romania and Bulgaria lie on major trade routes for illegal arms and drugs used by organised crime. Women from the two states fall victim to trafficking and sex slavery more often than most other Europeans.
Other EU member states agreed in September that Bulgaria and Romania were ready to join Schengen, but the Netherlands and Finland said they had not done enough to tackle corruption.
Finland softened its stance in November, saying it would agree to open air and sea borders and decide on land borders later. On Wednesday, Finland's interior minister said he was not yet ready to comment on the commission's latest report.
Romania sent a signal that it was cracking down in January when its top court gave former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase a two-year jail sentence for corruption.
However, the Netherlands, which is concerned about border controls, has said it requires at least two positive commission reports before it will agree to accession.
Knapen said while the commission's latest report showed progress, it also pointed out continuing problems: Romania needed to show more results in combating corruption in public procurement, while Bulgaria had problems concerning appointments in the judicial system.
"The Netherlands seeks two consecutive positive reports which indicate sustainable and irreversible progress to combat corruption and organized crime," he said.
"We will see in July, following the full report of the European Commission, whether this then has been the case." (Additional reporting By Terhi Kinnunen in Helsinki.)