Thursday

20th Jan 2022

France and Italy propose reform of EU border rules

  • Tunisian migrants with an EU flag on Lampedusa (Photo: Valentina Pop)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday (26 April) called for changes to be made to an EU agreement on passport-free travel following weeks of tension over migrants from north Africa.

At a summit in Rome, both leaders said the 1995 Schengen Agreement needs to be revised and that deportation agreements had to be made urgently with African countries so that migrants could be sent home.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed," said Sarkozy. "We believe in free circulation but we believe in a state of law and a certain number of rules."

Berlusconi added: "We both believe that in exceptional circumstances there should be variations to the Schengen treaty."

The agreement - applying to most EU countries as well as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland - is seen as one of the cornerstones of EU integration, relying on solidarity and trust between member states.

But the underlying fragility of the pact was exposed in recent months as around 30,000 migrants - mostly Tunisians - fleeing the aftermath of the democratic uprisings in north Africa began arriving in Italy.

Rome appealed for help from other member states in dealing with the situation, but when no help arrived it granted temporary residence permits to the migrants, many of whom used them to go to France.

This infuriated the French authorities, who started sending back people who could not support themselves economically.

Both leaders were in good humour on Tuesday, however. They agreed on a joint letter to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and EU council president Herman Van Rompuy asking the commission to come up with new proposals and for these to be signed off by member states in June.

At the moment, the border-free agreement can be suspended for national security reasons - often invoked by countries hosting the soccer World Cup.

The Franco-Italian letter wants to broaden this scope to allow for unilateral action on closing borders. It called on Brussels to "examine the possibility of restoring temporary control at internal borders in the event of exceptional difficulties in the management of common borders". The letter does not define what exceptional difficulties are, however.

The letter also calls for the EU to "prepare in advance" a solidarity plan "if a mass influx of displaced persons from Libya were to occur".

The commission has said it will come forward with proposals next week to define what "exceptional conditions" would be needed to "temporarily" reinstate national border controls. These will be discussed by interior ministers on 12 May.

Along with the travails of the eurozone, immigration has become the most controversial topic in the EU. Far-right and populist parties, often expressing openly anti-immigrant sentiments, are soaring in popularity in several states.

Sarkozy is battling the increasing popularity of the far-right National Front ahead of presidential elections next year while Berlusconi's government depends on the anti-immigrant Lega Nord.

But it is not just immigration from beyond Europe's borders that can lead to tensions. Intra-EU immigration can also cause controversy.

A poll for the Cologne-based IW institute showed that 40 percent of Germans fear that when the country fully opens its doors to citizens from eastern European member states from 1 May it will have a negative effect on their jobs.

According to IW, up to 1.2 million foreign workers are expected to migrate to Germany by 2020, with around 800,000 of them expected to come in the next two years.

Macron promises strong EU borders

Obligatory detentions, more security-screening, and faster deportations - these are the French EU presidency's migration priorities.

MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'

MEPs will vote on new rules setting out transparency obligations for online players and holding Big Tech giants accountable. But some issues proved to be divisive after EU lawmakers tabled over a hundred amendments on the file.

Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia

Emmanuel Macron also took hits from French political opponents, including the Green party presidential challenger MEP Yannick Jadot in the European Parliament ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in France in April.

Opinion

Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers

President Emmanuel Macron's address to the European Parliament championed a bold and ambitious pro-European agenda. There is one problem though - the plans rely on a system of governance that has gridlocked the EU for over a decade.

Analysis

Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?

The EU plans to label natural gas as 'green' in sustainable investment rules. From 2026 it will have to be blended with low-carbon gases like green hydrogen - but many scientists warn this is inefficient, costly and damaging to health.

Opinion

Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show

On Thursday, MEPs must press for a ban on all live exports outside the EU, and call for overall journey times within the EU to be limited to four hours for poultry and rabbits, and eight hours for other animals.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs call for full-scale election observers in Hungary
  2. Nato membership 'very unlikely' on her watch: Finland's PM
  3. Germany investigates Green leaders' Covid-bonuns
  4. Officials surprised by Macron's call for seperate EU-Russia talks
  5. Commission to withhold EU funds from Poland in mine row
  6. 'Patriotic millionaires' call for wealth tax at virtual Davos
  7. Borders must not be moved by force, Scholz warns
  8. MEPs demand public consultation on gas and nuclear

Column

An EU-Africa 'equal partnership' must tackle past and present

Competition is fierce and getting African leaders' attention is no easy task. US president Joe Biden has his own Africa summit, and Turkey, Japan, Russia and - most importantly - China, also have Africa forums up and running.

Opinion

Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show

On Thursday, MEPs must press for a ban on all live exports outside the EU, and call for overall journey times within the EU to be limited to four hours for poultry and rabbits, and eight hours for other animals.

Latest News

  1. Macron promises strong EU borders
  2. MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'
  3. Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia
  4. Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers
  5. Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?
  6. Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show
  7. An EU-Africa 'equal partnership' must tackle past and present
  8. Metsola becomes youngest EU Parliament president

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us