BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that security checks at Romanian airports can help improve safety for Schengen members, raising hopes that the East European country is closer to joining the passport-free area.
Hollande noted Romania had implemented a system to check passengers flying from Romanian airports.
"It is an important structure for our security. For us it is an essential point in the fight against terrorism, and for this reason, there should be discussions in Brussels to see how Romanian airports can bring a contribution to the Schengen space in their efficiency," he said.
Romania has been trying to join Schengen for years, but has failed to secure the unanimous agreement required from the 26 members, partly due to concerns about corruption.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis welcomed Hollande's comments, saying he felt Romania was supported by France in its bid to join the Schengen agreement, which stipulates there shouldn't be any passport controls or other border checks between member countries. Since the start of Europe's migrant crisis, however, some Schengen members have temporarily reinstituted border controls.
Speaking before an EU summit in Bratislava about Britain's vote to leave the bloc, Hollande said: "Europe has to be a hope. If it is not a hope, it is no longer Europe."
"We have to renew this hope through the young people of Europe," he said, adding he wants to highlight issues at the summit such as mobility, research, and the possibility of developing and having a job.
Romania and France hope the high-profile visit will also boost trade and consolidate bilateral relations between the traditional allies. France has 450 enterprises in Romania and French companies provide 100,000 jobs there, while France is the first choice for Romanian students who choose to study at foreign universities, Hollande said.
Hollande laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier early Tuesday, noting that it was the first state visit by a French president since Jacques Chirac came to Romania in 1997.
Hollande later officially opened the Airbus Romania factory in the town of Ghimbav in central Romania, which will produce H215 military and civil helicopters, starting next year or in 2018. It will become fully operational by 2020, manufacturing 15 helicopters a year and creating 350 jobs, company officials said.
Hollande called the 52 million euro ($58 million) investment "a project of European dimensions," and said it would create jobs in France.
The French leader is accompanied by 30 business chiefs.
A previous version of this story was corrected to show that Hollande's visit is the first visit by a French president to Romania since Jacques Chirac came to Bucharest in 1997, instead of an earlier visit by Francois Mitterrand in 1991.