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Italy and France ask for review to EU's borderless travel

Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi say they want to stop borderless travel in certain situations, amid rows over Tunisian refugees.

Image: Gregorio Borgia/AP

ITALY AND FRANCE have asked the European Union to revise the Schengen border treaty, which permits passport-free travel through Europe, to account for “exceptional” situations like the recent massive flood of Tunisian immigrants.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and French president Nicolas Sarkozy said today they had signed a joint letter to the EU, and had appointed officials to work on the issue.

“We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed,” Sarkozy told reporters after the meeting. “We believe in free circulation, but we believe in a state of law and a certain number of rules.”

Berlusconi said that while nobody wanted to cancel the treaty, “in exceptional circumstances we believe there must be variations.”

France has harshly criticised Italy for granting temporary residency permits to around 20,000 Tunisian migrants who have arrived in Italy since the North Africa nation’s dictator Ben Ali was overthrown in mid-January.

Most Tunisians want eventually to get to France, Tunisia’s former colonial ruler, where many have relatives. France last week stopped a train carrying Tunisian immigrants from Italy at the French border, sending back those who could not support themselves financially.

Ireland and the UK are the only two EU member states not to be full parties to the Schengen agreement, though they have signed up to abide by certain provisions of it.

The immigration dispute was a key topic of the bilateral summit at which the pair were speaking, but French takeovers of Italian companies were also on the agenda: French dairy company Lactalis today said it was making a €3.375 billion bid for full control of Italian dairy giant Parmalat.

Berlusconi said he didn’t consider the bid hostile and said he believed the French government was unaware of Lactalis’ plans.

Separately, Sarkozy voiced support for Italian central banker Mario Draghi to become the new president of the European Central Bank, succeeding Jean-Claude Trichet later this year.

Sarkozy said Draghi was a top candidate who would ably demonstrate “Italy’s role in the EU.”

AP

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