Open-border reforms top agenda at France-Italy summit

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy meets Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome on Tuesday with potential revisions to the Schengen open-borders treaty topping the agenda amid a festering row over immigration.

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.

On April 18 France stopped trains from Italy carrying immigrants and their supporters, citing risks to public order, and Sarkozy's office on Friday called for changes to the Schengen accord.

France "does not want to suspend Schengen," but "review the safeguard clauses in particular situations," said Henri Guaino, a special advisor to Sarkozy.

Italy meanwhile is in favour of some "technical control" to determine whether the treaty fits with current realities, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

He said the Schengen accords "which are one of the two pillars of Europe along with the euro, cannot be questioned."

"But the issue is to analyse how this instrument is adapted to our times and to a world which changes rapidly. In short, a technical control," he told the daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Sunday.

Both Berlusconi and Sarkozy -- who faces elections in a year's time -- are under right-wing pressure on immigration from coalition partner the Northern League and from opponents the National Front, respectively.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss policy on Libya, and the recent inroads by French companies into the Italian economy with a string of takeover moves.

France and Britain led the charge in support of rebels fighting Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, while Italy, which has strong economic interests in its former colony, lagged behind.

Now, however, Rome has followed Paris in recognising Libya's rebel Transitional National Council, agreeing to dispatch military advisers to help the undisciplined fighters and, on Monday, announcing that it will allow its air force to take "targeted action" against selected military objectives in Libya.

On the economic front, Italy has taken a number of steps aimed at curbing French economic incursions, particularly following the announcement in March that France's Lactalis had a 29 percent stake in food group Parmalat.

Lactalis already owns Italian firm Galbani, while French luxury group LVMH bought posh jeweller Bulgari in March and energy giant EDF is threatening to take control of Italy's Edison.

© 2011 AFP

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