Romania and Bulgaria, the European Union's two newest members, were denied entry into Europe's borderless free-travel zone Thursday when EU interior ministers could not reach the necessary unanimity and decided not to hold a vote.
Poland's interior minister, Jerzy Miller, said angrily that both countries had been promised entry and had met the requirements.
"Today, the promise has been broken," Miller said. "Today, we were not confident enough to say we want to act together, not separately." Poland currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.
"This leads me to rather sad conclusions about the trust between member states," Miller said.
The Bulgarian interior minister was harsher still, saying the refusal to admit the new countries undermined the EU project.
The outcome had been virtually certain before the meeting began. The Netherlands and Finland had publicly opposed admitting Romania and Bulgaria, both of which joined the European Union in 2007, saying they needed to do more to fight corruption and organized crime. Within the Schengen free-travel zone, there are no checks performed or papers required when people cross national borders.
The French and Germans had proposed a compromise: drop border checks at airports and seaports in October, but continue them on land crossings until summer 2013, based on a report to be completed by July. But that was rejected.
The free movement of people has been one of the EU's most cherished achievements. And the dispute over it comes just as the EU's other most-cherished achievement, the euro common currency, is also under severe stress.
The borderless travel dispute threatens to turn bitter. After the Dutch announced their opposition to Romania and Bulgaria joining, Romania began blocking all flower imports from the Netherlands, saying the paperwork was not in order and the plants might contain "dangerous bacteria."
Esther de Lange, a Dutch member of the European Parliament called the move "old-school blackmail."
Raf Casert in Brussels, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, and Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, contributed to this report. Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin