Schengen countries are to be given more room for maneuver when it comes to introducing border controls. Changes were put in place after a dispute between Paris and Rome over an influx of migrants from North Africa.
Participating members will be allowed to introduce border controls in future when faced with the entry of a large number of illegal immigrants, the European Council of Ministers revealed on Thursday.
Under the current rules of the Schengen "border free" area, people are allowed to travel across 26 signatory countries without showing their passports. However, member states can currently reinstate border checks for up to 30 days if public policy or internal security comes under threat.
Such measures have been introduced in the past where countries have been hosting high-profile international events like political summits or sporting competitions.
However the new rules, which still have to be formally approved by the European Parliament and individual states, mean it will be possible to set up border controls for renewable six-month periods for a maximum of two years.
The measures are intended, in part, to allow Schengen countries to respond when other member states fail to secure their own outer borders to a degree that could be deemed detrimental to the rest of the Shengen area.
The new measures would "create a more robust and rigorous system to oversee the implementation of the Schengen agreement," said Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who led negotiations with the European Parliament on behalf of member states.
"This will enhance the security and stability of the Schengen border-free arrangements for the benefit of the many millions of citizens who avail of them each year," he added.
Spat between France and Italy
Changes to the current arrangement were demanded after a dispute arose between France and Italy over an influx of immigrants from Tunisia following the uprising that toppled former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Italy was accused of encouraging undocumented North African migrants to move to other parts of the Schengen area, with former colonial power France a popular destination for many. There are also concerns about immigration across Greece's porous border with Turkey.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich welcomed the reforms. "With the procedures that have been adopted we maintain the balance between a respect for the national sovereignty of the member states over the safety of their citizens and the necessary handling of matters at a European level," said Friedrich.
Italian grants to immigrants
The German government warned individual state authorities in late March to expect more arrivals from Italy, where refugee camps were being closed.
Germany's biggest selling newspaper Bild on Thursday voiced outrage at the fact that the Italian government had given grants of up to 500 euros ($650) to African migrants at its temporary refuge centers, as a "reward to leave." Bild claimed that the migrants were advised to move to Germany.
However, the Italian ambassador to Berlin told the ANSA news agency that this was untrue. "It is not true that the money was given with the advice to go to Germany. This is a slanderous and unpleasant interpretation given by the German press," said Menzione.
rc/msh (AFP, dpa)