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France, Italy seek restrictions on European passport- free travel

Amid tensions over an influx of migrants to Europe, France and Italy have called for changes to the Schengen agreement which allows visa-free movement across 25 European nations.

Immigrants crowd a boat near the Italian island of Lampedusa

An increase in African migrants to Italy has raised tensions in Europe

In a joint letter to Brussels, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have called on EU nations to temporarily suspend their Schengen commitments, Italian news site repubblica reported on Saturday.

"The governance of Schengen is failing. It seems there is a need to reflect on a mechanism that will allow, in case of a systemic failure of an external (EU) border, to intervene through a provisional suspension, until such time as the weakness is corrected," the French presidency said.

Any move to suspend the Schengen treaty is likely to be highly controviersial. Suspension of the agreement is permitted under the Schengen Pact, but only in the case of a "grave threat to the public order or internal security."

The Schengen agreement currently allows border-free travel across 25 European Union member states.

Row over Schengen abuse

Italy and France want the EU to boost help to European nations struggling to cope with an influx of migrants fleeing unrest in North Africa. They have proposed better equipping EU border agency, Frontex, with resources and expertise.

police officer inspecting migrants

France has stopped and inspected Italian trains with African migrants on board

France has accused Italy of abusing the Schengen pact by issuing temporary residence permits to around 25,000 migrants from North Africa, many of whom are French speaking Tunisians. After landing in Italy, many have attempted to reach friends and family in France - the former colonial power in Tunisia.

Last week, French officials temporarily stopped trains with migrants crossing the border from Italy into France, triggering a dispute between the two governments.

Sarkozy is due to address the problem of migrants entering France through Italy when he meets Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi on Tuesday in Rome.

Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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