France, Italy call for reforms in Schengen border control pact

Schengen treaty allows passport-free travel through 25 nations in the region.

Updated: Apr 26, 2011, 22:28 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Rome: In a bid to ease the tension over immigrations from North Africa, France and Italy on Tuesday came together to seek revisions to Schengen treaty that allows passport-free travel through 25 nations in the region.

Italian President Silvio Berlusconi and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy met at a summit in Rome today where they agreed upon a joint appeal over the Schengen agreement to the EU leadership.

Italy has come under harsh criticism from France for infringing the Schengen pact by having granted temporary residency permits to Tunisians. At least 20,000 migrants from Tunisia have arrived in Italy since the start of the year after the uprising there. With France having closer ties with former colony Tunisia, a major chunk of 20,000 Tunisian migrants are French-speaking and finally want to migrate to France.

"We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed," Mr Sarkozy said after the meeting.

"We believe in free circulation but we believe in a state of law and a certain number of rules."

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

Citing risks to public order, France had last week stopped a train carrying Tunisian immigrants from Italy at the French border, sending back those who could not support themselves financially. Also, Sarkozy`s office had on Friday urged for changes in 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.

The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 as a major step towards European integration as it opened passport-free travel to 400m people in 25 nations.

However, it has come in for criticism as divided EU nations squabble over immigration.

Both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Sarkozy have come under pressure from right-wing groups on the issue of immigration.

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

With Agency inputs