Austria in Thursday blocked the accession of Romania and Bulgaria into Schengen, the passport-free area that has scrapped border checks between most EU member states.
The Netherlands supported Romania’s bid but opposed Bulgaria’s.
Croatia received unanimous backing and will join the Schengen zone starting January 2023.
The votes took place in Brussels on Thursday afternoon during a meeting of interior ministers.
Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca was set to make a statement at 5 pm, while co-governing partner, Social Democrat leader Marcel Ciolacu, called the outcome „a free Christmas gift for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”
The negative conclusion is a political defeat for both Romania and Bulgaria, who joined the EU in 2007, six years before Croatia.
The European Commission, in charge of assessing Schengen candidacies, has said the two countries are ready to become part of the passport-free area since at least 2011.
The European Parliament passed a new resolution denouncing the exclusion as „discriminatory.”
Over the past few years, countries that were previously opposed to Schengen enlargement, such as Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium had softened their opposition.
France and Germany voiced their support for Romania and Bulgaria this year but not enough to sway Austria and the Netherlands in Romania and Bulgaria’s favor.
Schengen accession requires unanimity and the two member countries managed to block the whole process.
Austria’s opposition only emerged in recent weeks, is based on a new influx of asylum-seekers through the Western Balkan route.