27 APR 2011
By Honor Mahony
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday (26 April) called for changes to be made to an EU agreement on passport-free travel following weeks of tension over migrants from north Africa.
At a summit in Rome, both leaders said the 1995 Schengen Agreement needs to be revised and that deportation agreements had to be made urgently with African countries so that migrants could be sent home.
"We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed," said Sarkozy. "We believe in free circulation but we believe in a state of law and a certain number of rules."
Berlusconi added: "We both believe that in exceptional circumstances there should be variations to the Schengen treaty."
The agreement - applying to most EU countries as well as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland - is seen as one of the cornerstones of EU integration, relying on solidarity and trust between member states.
But the underlying fragility of the pact was exposed in recent months as around 30,000 migrants - mostly Tunisians - fleeing the aftermath of the democratic uprisings in north Africa began arriving in Italy.
Rome appealed for help from other member states in dealing with the situation, but when no help arrived it granted temporary residence permits to the migrants, many of whom used them to go to France.
This infuriated the French authorities, who started sending back people who could not support themselves economically.
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