France, Italy call for reform of EU open-border treaty

26th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

France and Italy issued a joint call Tuesday for a reform of the European Union's visa-free treaty on Tuesday that would allow EU member states to re-impose internal border controls more easily.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed on a letter outlining their demands to EU leaders at a summit in Rome following the arrival of thousands of migrants from Tunisia.

"We both believe that in exceptional circumstances there should be variations to the Schengen treaty," Berlusconi told reporters after the talks.

Sarkozy said: "For the treaty to stay alive, it must be reformed."

First signed in 1985 as a giant step towards European integration, the Schengen treaty opening passport-free travel to 400 million people in 25 nations is in the line of fire as divided EU nations squabble over immigration.

A planned reform of Schengen later this year should look at "the possibility of restoring internal border checks temporarily in cases of exceptional difficulty in managing common external borders," the letter said.

The letter was addressed to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council chief Herman Van Rompuy.

The current rules only allow controls to be re-introduced only when there is a "grave threat to the public order or internal security" of an EU state.

The letter also called for a reinforcement of the EU's Warsaw-based border agency Frontex and for agreements on immigration between the European Union and states in the southern Mediterranean that will allow for deportations.

Paris has accused Rome of abusing the Schengen pact by issuing temporary residence permits and travel documents to migrants fleeing North Africa in the knowledge that many among the French-speaking Tunisians want to go to France.

France has close ties to former colony Tunisia, and many would-be migrants among the more than 20,000 Tunisians given papers by Italy have friends and relatives in French cities and have been streaming across the border.

Both Berlusconi and Sarkozy -- who faces a presidential election in a year's time -- are under right-wing pressure on immigration at a time in which unrest in North Africa has displaced thousands of people around the Mediterranean.

Italy has complained for weeks of being left alone to cope with the arrival of a total of nearly 30,000 migrants from North Africa so far this year, some fleeing the conflict in Libya, the majority economic refugees from Tunisia.

Sarkozy and Berlusconi also called for an end to the "violent repression" against peaceful protests in Syria, with Sarkozy saying that foreign intervention there would have to be sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

"It would not be easy to obtain," Sarkozy told reporters.

"The situation is unacceptable... You cannot send in tanks and the army to put down protests. This brutality is unacceptable," he said.

"We are with the Arab people in their aspirations for freedom," he added.

The two men also talked about the situation in Libya after Italy on Monday announced it would participate in NATO air strikes against the regime after initial reluctance due to Italy's colonial history in the country.

In a joint statement from the meeting, Italy and France called on the international community to stop shipping oil products to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's regime that could be used to "help attacks against the population."

"We urge all countries and oil market operators to reject any type of trade or transport of hydrocarbons that could benefit Kadhafi's regime," it added.

The two leaders also debated the thorny issue of recent inroads made by French companies into the Italian economy with a string of takeover moves, which have raised nationalist sentiment and fears of a French monopoly.

Earlier on Tuesday, French dairy giant Lactalis launched a 3.4 billion euro ($4.9 billion) takeover bid for Italy's Parmalat, saying the two companies combined would create the biggest dairy products company in the world.

© 2011 AFP

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