20th Sep 2019

Berlin gives helping hand to Sarkozy on borders issue

  • Diplomat: 'It has to be read in a political context' (Photo: lincolnblues)

A Franco-German letter calling for reform of EU border-free area rules is being seen by diplomats as political support for Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of Sunday's (22 April) elections.

The letter - signed by the French and German interior ministers - reiterates calls made by Sarkozy during the campaign that the 26-member-strong 'Schengen' area should be changed so that governments can "as a last resort ... reintroduce internal frontiers for a period not greater than 30 days."

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This is already the situation and the safeguard has in the past been triggered, for instance, to stop hooligans going to international football events.

But the EU commission last year tried to change the provision so that after five days national governments must ask permission from Brussels to keep the border checks in place. The proposal was initially dismissed by interior ministers but is still under discussion.

"In our opinion, this is a non-negotiable point. Therefore we oppose any change to article 23 FF of the Schengen Code," says the Franco-German letter.

Sarkozy has taken a hard line on immigration in a bid to woo voters fro the far-right. Last month he threatened to pull France out of Schengen unless "serious progress" is achieved in reforming the way it works.

For their part, EU officials took an arm's length approach to the Franco-German letter on Thursday.

An EU commission spokesman said they had not received it. "But if we do, we'll certainly study it. Discussions are already under way on Schengen governance, but it is not on the agenda of the ministers' meeting next week," commission spokesman Matthew Newman said.

"We welcome the letter as an important input to the ongoing discussions on Schengen governance," Danish presidency spokesman Preben Aamann told this website on Friday. He added that ministers will not discuss the idea earlier than June, with the presidency set to deliver a 'state of play' next week.

EU diplomats from several member states said - on condition of anonymity - that the letter is a political stunt by Germany's centre-right government to help its centre-right ally in France.

"It has to be read in a political context. Immigration and freedom of movement is a scapegoat in the current situation, and to some leaders it's easier to make blurred promises on it than to deal with austerity and financial matters," one diplomat noted.

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