France Says No Quitting Schengen, Set for Rapprochement with Italy

Bulgaria in EU | April 24, 2011, Sunday // 17:27|  views

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) will visit Rome for talks with Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi for crucial talks over Schengen and North African migration. File photo

France does not intend to quit the bordeless Schengen Area because of its row with Italy over North African immigrants but wants to discuss modifications to the agreement, according to French EU Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez.

In a Sunday's interview for Le Journal de Dimanche, Wauquiez clarified the French position disproving reports that France is considering unilaterally suspending the Schengen border-free travel agreement to block a huge rise in migrants from Tunisia and Libya.

At present, the Schengen treaty allows its 25 member states to temporarily suspend border-free travel over "security reasons." However, Wauquiez has made it clear that France would like to have the option of restoring border control in the event of a major influx of immigrants through EU's external borders.

"We must draw the lessons of this crisis together. The solution is in greater integration but we also need an emergency brake in case of a major crisis," Wauquiez said on Sunday.

In his words, France supported the creation of a common border guard, and sharing patrols ships and computer systems.

His clarification comes after on Saturday, Euronews reported that a source close to President Nicolas Sarkozy's office informed that France wanted to make it easier to set up temporary border controls. France has opposed Italy's decision to grant 6-month temporary permits to 20 000 migrants from Tunisia, who arrived in Italy by April 5, on the grounds the permits will allow the migrants to reach and stay with relatives and friends across Europe.

Paris countered, reminding that according to Schengen legislation, there is a rule postulating that the first country the migrants enter is the country which must manage the influx.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to meet Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome on Tuesday in a much-advertised bid to defuse the row. Sarkozy will put forth an initiative to change the regulations governing Europe's border-free travel.

The visit is part of a regular series of meetings between Italian and French leaders.

It follows the crisis in the northern Italian border town of Ventimiglia, where French gendarmes have sent back Tunisian migrants

As the revolutions and ongoing civil unrest in the Arab world led dozens of thousands of North Africans to seek to make it to Europe with Italy being the main entry point, France and Italy have been accusing one another flouting the spirit of the Schengen treaty, intended to guarantee free movement within the EU.

Italy has indicated it would consider a French initiative to modify the treaty as Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the principle of free circulation within the EU cannot be done away with but the treaty needed a "check-up."

"All treaties inevitably grow old. The Berlin wall of north Africa has come down and the context in which these treaties, and I think also the Lisbon treaty, were written has changed radically," he told the daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Sunday.

French Foreign Minister, Claude Gueant, pointed out last Monday foreigners, who have obtained permits from Italy, must show proof they have the financial means to sustain their stay in another European country, and then return home, adding France is going to send back to Italy people who show at the border without such proof.

Last weekend, France closed its borders to trains carrying African migrants from Italy, which became the source of intense quarreling between Paris and Rome.

The European Commission stated France's move was legal for security reasons despite the fact the Schengen agreement allows free movement of migrants.

Italy lists the number of migrants from Libya and Tunisia, who arrived following unrest in the two countries, at 26 000.

EC spokesperson Mark Gray says the Commission had not been informed about France's intentions to temporarily suspend its Schengen free-travel agreement, reminding Schengen countries can undertake such moves for very short periods of time and on the base of solid reasons.

These reasons are serious threats for public order or national security when border control can be reinstated for 30 days and extended with another 30 if the threats continue.

EC and other Schengen countries must be notified about the motives and the exact actions, checkpoints and dates.

Bulgaria, a Schengen hopeful and the closest EU member state to the wider Middle East together with Greece and Italy has not seen a tide of illegal immigrants for the time being, unlike its neighbor Greece which has been getting help from EU border control agency Frontex.

In the past few months, France together with Germany have raised political opposition to Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the Schengen area leading the two countries to miss the original joining deadline of March 2011.

It is still unclear how much Sarkozy's visit in Rome will achieve in terms of defusing the African migration row between the two countries.

In addition to the immigration issue, the relations between France and Italy have been strained over a bid to control Parmalat, Italy's biggest listed food group in which French dairy group Lactalis has reached a stake of some 30%.

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Tags: Libya, Tunisia, migrants, Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, Sakrozy, Nicolas, Rome, free-travel agreement, Schengen, suspend, France, European Commission, Mark Gray, EC spokesperson, temporary, permits, Nicolas Sarkozy, Laurent Wauquiez


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