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Europe

France and Italy seek accord on EU border row

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are looking for a deal on tightening European Union border controls after tensions over an influx of migrants from North Africa.

Migrants from North Africa on the Italian island of Lampedusa

Many of the migrants want to seek asylum in France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome on Tuesday to try to resolve tensions over North African migrants by tightening border controls.

Both Berlusconi and Sarkozy are under pressure at home from right-wing parties on immigration. Sarkozy - who faces presidential elections next year - is facing strong opposition from the National Front. He wants to reach a deal with Berlusconi before taking their joint proposals to their European Union partners.

The summit follows deep discord over immigration between the two countries. Paris and Rome have each accused the other side of flouting the spirit of the Schengen treaty, which allows people to travel freely across many borders within the EU. The treaty came into the spotlight recently as Italy faced an influx of migrants in the wake of unrest in North Africa.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has worries of his own at home

So far this year, around 25,000 migrants, mostly from France's former colony Tunisia, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies about 120 kilometers off the Tunisian coast. The huge numbers of migrants have created a humanitarian emergency.

Passing the buck

Italy says it has been left to deal with the problem on its own, while France has accused Rome of trying to escape its responsibilities by allowing illegal immigrants free transit across the border. Many are heading to France, where they have friends and family and speak the language.

On April 18, France stopped trains carrying immigrants from Italy, citing risks to public order. On Friday, Sarkozy's office called for changes to the Schengen accord.

France "does not want to suspend Schengen," but "review the safeguard clauses in particular situations," said Henri Guaino, a special advisor to Sarkozy.

Silvio Berlusconi on the island of Lampedusa

Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who visited Lampedusa, says he isn't getting enough help from the EU

Italy meanwhile is in favor of some "technical control" to determine whether the treaty fits with current realities, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

He said the Schengen accords "which are one of the two pillars of Europe along with the euro, cannot be questioned."

"But the issue is to analyze how this instrument is adapted to our times and to a world which changes rapidly. In short, a technical control," he told the daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Sunday.

Officials hope that the two sides can agree joint proposals to allow border controls to be reinstated temporarily under some circumstances.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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