Brussels sticks to Schengen plan despite criticism

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The European Commission on Wednesday defended a proposal to give Brussels more say in bids by EU states to restore internal borders despite criticism of the plan by France, Germany and Spain.

The European Union executive is to unveil draft legislation Friday to reform the passport-free Schengen travel zone, an overhaul requested by EU states worried over surging numbers of illegal migrants.

EU sources said the proposals would enable countries within the 25-nation border-free area to reinstate border patrols without prior permission for five-day stretches in case of terror threats or a sudden surge of immigration.

For periods longer than five days, countries would need a green light from Brussels.

French, German and Spanish interior ministers however have complained the proposal goes too far as a decision to restore border controls should be the remit of national governments.

But commission spokesman Michele Cercone told a news briefing that "our proposal stays as planned".

In a joint statement, the three ministers said "we believe that respecting the core area of national sovereignty is very important to the member states".

"We therefore do not share the European Commission's views on assuming responsibility for making decisions on operational measures in the security field," they said.

Cercone declined to comment on criticism by the three nations while insisting the new proposal did not aim a particular country.

"Our proposal does not target Denmark, Greece, Italy or France," he said. "Our proposal is being made to reinforce Schengen."

"This in the end will be in the interest of all member states and ... will not change the principle in which member states can in case of unforeseen events reintroduce border controls on their own initiative," he said.

A cornerstone of European integration, Schengen faced controversy during the Arab Spring over fears of seeing waves of illegal migrants heading to Europe.

France and Italy called for an overhaul of Schengen after the two nations traded barbs when Rome handed out temporary papers to thousands of Tunisian migrants, enabling them to head for France. Paris in response sent border guards and stopped trains on the border with Italy.

Over the summer, Denmark faced criticism from Brussels when it unilaterally decided to deploy permanent customs controls at its German and Swedish borders.

© 2011 AFP

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