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19th Aug 2022

Barroso moots return of internal EU borders

  • EU citizens could face more border checks in future (Photo: afagen)

The re-instatement of European border controls to tackle a wave of immigration from northern Africa is a "possibility", European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has suggested.

Barroso's remarks in a letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday (1 May) come after a period of bickering between the two states, centered on the fate of some 25,000 Tunisian immigrants who have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa since January.

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The dispute has thrown the spotlight on a 1985 treaty abolishing border posts - known as the Schengen Agreement - which has grown over time to encompass 25 continental states, home to roughly 400 million people.

"The temporary restoration of borders is one of the possibilities, provided this is subject to specific and clearly defined criteria, that could be an element to strengthen the governance of the Schengen agreement," Barroso wrote.

On Wednesday the commission will come forward with a policy document outlining a series of measures to ramp up the bloc's migration policy following a series of recent revolutions in northern Africa.

A more strategic approach concerning relations with third countries, together with the completion of the EU's Common European Asylum System are among the measures expected to feature in the document.

In his letter, Barroso also said the commission was in favour of strengthening the EU's joint border agency, Frontex.

Against a backdrop of rising far-right political parties across Europe however, proposals to alter the Schengen Agreement are arguably the most controversial, with the passport-free travel zone seen an a key achievement within the EU integration project.

The move comes as another of the EU's landmark achievements - the creation of a single currency area - continues to be buffeted by financial markets.

Under current rules, only a "serious threat" to public order or internal security can be used as a justification for a reinstatement of temporary border controls, with renewal of any extraordinary measures needed after 30 days.

But an Italian-French summit in Rome on 27 April called for the re-imposition of borders more easily, after an earlier Italian call for EU member states to share the growing number of north African immigrants arriving on its shores was essentially rejected.

Prior to the summit, a Franco-Italian spat saw Rome issue the Tunisian boat-people with temporary residence permits, a measure seen as helping them move out of Italy and further west into Europe.

France hit back, rounding up thousands of migrants near the border and restricting train travel between the two states.

The immigration issue is set to feature prominently on the agenda of a June European summit in Brussels, with Bulgaria and Romania's push to join the Schengen Agreement adding further spice to the mix.

Europe's future migration policy must avoid being overly security orientated, which could "appear to reject the values on which the European project is based", warned Barroso in the letter.

But Europe must also avoid an "overly lax" management of its inward migration which could spark greater public concerns, added the commission chief.

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The EU commission wants to have a central role in decisions on the reintroduction of border controls, so far a prerogative of individual member states. A draft proposal will be put forward next week and is already causing a stir in pre-election Denmark.

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