Italy and France asked the European Union today to revise the Schengen border treaty that permits passport-free travel through Europe to take into account "exceptional" situations like the recent massive flood of Tunisian immigrants.
France has harshly criticized Italy for granting temporary residency permits to some 20,000 Tunisian migrants who have arrived in Italy since the North Africa nation's dictator was overthrown in mid-January. Most Tunisians want eventually to get to France, Tunisia's former colonial ruler, where many have relatives.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said they had signed a joint letter to the EU during a summit on Tuesday and had appointed officials to work on the issue.
"We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed," Sarkozy told reporters after the meeting. "We believe in free circulation but we believe in a state of law and a certain number of rules."
Berlusconi said no one wanted to cancel the treaty but said "in exceptional circumstances we believe there must be variations."
France last week stopped a train carrying Tunisian immigrants from Italy at the French border, sending back those who could not support themselves financially.
The immigration dispute was a key topic of the summit, but French takeovers of Italian companies were also on the agenda. French dairy company Lactalis on Tuesday said it was making a €3.375 billion ($4.92 billion) bid for full control of Italian dairy giant Parmalat.
Berlusconi said he didn't consider the bid hostile and said he believed the French government was unaware of Lactalis' plans.
Separately, Sarkozy voiced support for Italian Central Banker Mario Draghi to become the new head of the European Central Bank. He said Draghi was a top candidate who would ably demonstrate "Italy's role in the EU."