15th Dec 2018

Italy considers curbs on 'Schengen zone' free travel

Amid claims of rising crime, Italy has revived a tougher stance against migrants entering the country illegally and suggested the restriction of free movement in the Schengen border-free zone.

"Italian citizens do not want racist or xenophobic behaviour by the Berlusconi government, which it would in any case never adopt. But by their vote they have asked for a firm attitude," Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini told RAI public radio earlier this week.

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  • Italy - popular anger is targeted at Romanian migrants (Photo: European Commission)

In a separate interview with the Financial Times on Wednesday (14 May), Mr Frattini - who recently served as the European Commission vice-president in charge of justice and home affairs - suggested an "updating" of the bloc's passport-free area arrangements established in 1985.

In practice, this would mean limiting the free movement of people by introducing, for example, a minimum income requirement in case an EU citizen wants to stay in Italy for more than three months.

Mr Frattini's comments come as his government colleague, interior minister Robert Maroni from the anti-immigration Northern League, is drafting a legislative package which would make entering the country illegally a crime punishable by up to four years in jail.

According to Reuters, Mr Maroni is also aiming at a suspension of Italy's obligations under the European Union's Schengen scheme - something that would allow Rome to re-introduce external borders. This is currently allowed only in the face of national security or public order risks.

The Romania issue

The move is believed to target migrants from Romania, who are popularly seen as the main source of rising crime in Italy. Over 550,000 Romanians are estimated to live in Italy, many without permission, and some - especially Roma communities - setting up temporary camps.

Fears over such migrants reached its peak last year after the murder of a woman allegedly by a Romanian of Roma origin - something that resulted in the direct expulsion of a number of Roma people.

The then commissioner Frattini himself advised the Italian government to pull down Roma camps to prevent them from returning - a comment harshly criticed by the European Parliament, a strong advocate of the freedom of movement principle.

In the face of new developments, Romania's prime minister, Calin Tariceanu, has ordered his interior minister to pay an urgent visit to Rome to calm tensions.

"We have proposed to the Italian authorities that we could urgently send a team of Romanian policemen and prosecutors to lend support to the Italian authorities in their efforts to combat crime," he said, AFP reports.

Fundamental pillar

He also warned against xenophobic attitudes and insisted that "the right to move freely in Europe is one of the fundamental pillars" of the EU, while Bucharest "could not agree with the violation" of this right.

The stance was echoed by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who said earlier this week that he did not agree with the proposed new offence of clandestine immigration.

"It is clearly necessary to respect the law and to regulate the flow of migrants, but one cannot say that we have no need for immigrants," the cardinal was cited as saying by AFP.

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