EU considers tightening border rules

Dispute between France and Italy over Tunisian migrants brings call for temporary reintroduction of border controls.

     France criticised Italy after it granted temporary visas to Tunisians, allowing them to travel across the EU [AFP]

    The European Union may temporarily reintroduce national border controls within the bloc following a row between Italy and France over immigration.

    The body's executive arm made the proposal on Wednesday as part of a review of the Schengen treaty, which allows free travel within the region.

    "It may also be necessary to foresee the temporary reintroduction of limited internal border controls under very exceptional circumstances," Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU home affairs commissioner said.

    She said the measure could be used when "a part of the external borders comes under heavy unexpected pressure".

    The announcement follows a call by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, for an EU revision of the Schengen treaty.

    France criticised Italy last month for abusing the Schengen pact when it granted around 20,000 Tunisians temporary residence permits, allowing them to freely travel across Europe to France, where many have relatives.

    Designed as a step towards European integration, the Schengen treaty, signed in 1985, allows passport-free travel to 400m people in 25 nations in Europe.

    Norway's police have also called for a review of the treaty, saying the opening of Europe's borders is responsible for a spike in crime in Nordic countries.

    "Open borders in Europe have led to a situation where 80 percent of crimes committed in Norway and other Nordic states are carried out by criminals who are either from the Baltic states or are strongly linked to the organised crime in the Baltic states," Egil Haaland, the president of the Norwegian police association, told Estonia's Posteemes daily.

    The proposal by the EU Commission is part of a wider plan to address immigration from North Africa, which could rise sharply after unrest and revolts in the region opened up borders that had blocked migrants in the past.

    The Commission also wants to improve protection of the EU's external frontiers by giving more power to its border control agency, Frontex.

    Its proposal on Schengen will be submitted to a special meeting of bloc interior ministers on May 12 and a meeting of EU government leaders June 24.

    However the suggestion is likely to be met with criticism from some member states.

    "Greece believes that freedom of movement within the Schengen Area must be jealously preserved, for it is the most fundamental pylon of European unification,'' Christos Papoutsis, Greek Citizens Protection Minister, said.

    Liberal deputies in the European parliament have also previously opposed limits on the fundamental EU right of free movement of people within the bloc.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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