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France mulls suspension of Schengen visa-free travel

France wants to reintroduce temporary border controls within the visa-free Schengen zone to allow EU member states to reinstate national border controls for security reasons.


REUTERS - France wants to make it easier to set up temporary border controls with its EU partners to stem an increase in migrants, a source close to the presidency said, a rise caused in part by uprisings in Tunisia and Libya.

“It seems to us that we need to think about a mechanism that would allow us, when there is a systematic disruption at one of the EU’s external borders, to intervene with a temporary suspension for as long as the disruption lasts,” the source close to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office told Reuters on Friday.

Italy says 26,000 migrants fleeing violence in Libya and unrest in Tunisia and Egypt have arrived on its shores so far this year.

Once inside the border-free Schengen area, migrants can move freely around the 25-nation bloc of European states.

France recently shut its borders to trains carrying African migrants from Italy, triggering a dispute between the two governments, with Italy accusing its neighbour of overstepping the EU’s Schengen treaty on border-free travel.

The European Commission has said the move was legal.

The source said France now wanted to boost the treaty’s existing provision for suspending border-free travel for exceptional security reasons.

The Schengen area comprises 25 countries, 22 of them EU members. It has border controls on entering and leaving the area, but none on travel within it.

The treaty already allows member countries to temporarily reinstate border controls if deemed necessary for security reasons, such as big sporting events like the Olympic Games or to address temporary threats.

As interior minister in 2005, Sarkozy reintroduced border controls after the July 7 suicide bombings on London’s transport network which killed 52 people, in addition to the bombers.

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

The French president particularly wanted to discuss how to improve cooperation on illegal immigration and boost the European Union’s Frontex border agency, the source said.

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