Sarkozy and Berlusconi find a common cause: keep immigrants out

Rules on free movement within Europe in doubt after crisis caused by influx of refugees from North African unrest

The leaders of France and Italy yesterday called for an overhaul of the system of passport-free travel across 25 European nations following alarm in Paris over the effect of a wave of migrants fleeing conflict in North Africa.

The Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi, and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, said they wanted new border restrictions in a notable watering down of the aims of the 1995 Schengen deal for free movement of people across most of continental Europe.

The pair issued their demand at a summit in Rome designed to repair relations between the two countries that had been damaged by the dispute over the fate of many of the 28,000 people who have fled political turmoil in North Africa. Most of those landed first on the Italian island of Lampedusa, creating a humanitarian and political crisis that the Italian authorities attempted to solve by diverting many to France, prompting a furious response from its north-western neighbour. Mr Berlusconi yesterday acknowledged the greater burden faced by France after the exodus triggered by the revolt in Tunisia, the first nation to topple its leader in the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world. In another sop to France, Italy hours earlier also agreed to play a role in bombing Gaddafi forces in the French-inspired Libyan campaign.

The leaders detailed their demands in a joint letter to the EU, and said they were working on proposals to change Schengen. Both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Sarkozy – who faces a presidential election in a year's time – are under pressure from right-wing parties to adopt a tough line on immigration.

"We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed," Mr 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."

Mr Berlusconi said no one wanted to cancel the treaty, but added "in exceptional circumstances we believe there must be variations".

After weeks of arrivals – and the deaths of hundreds while making the journey from the African mainland in rickety boats – Italy issued temporary residency permits to thousands of Tunisian immigrants. The visas were issued in the knowledge that many would head for France, the former colonial ruler, where many had friends or relatives.

Paris responded by accusing its neighbour of abusing the Schengen agreement. As thousands of Tunisians attempt to cross into France with their temporary visas, French authorities initially blocked the migrants' passage, by stopping trains arriving from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia.

It appeared yesterday that Italy has been the first to back down, with Mr Berlusconi yesterday acknowledging the greater burden of immigration facing France. "Every year France takes 50,000 migrants; Italy an average of 10,000," he said. "We're aware of this and on our part there's no desire to launch accusations at France."

Italy's centre-left opposition Democratic Party mocked the government for taking a "sensational step backwards" on the immigration issue. "In a short time we have passed from accusing the French to applauding the closure of Ventimiglia," said Sandro Gozi, the party's spokesman for EU issues, in a reference to the border disputes.

According to the centre-left La Repubblica newspaper, Mr Berlusconi's compliance over changes to Schengen helped Italy to secure French support for its candidate for the next presidency of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi. But referring to Mr Draghi by name, Mr Sarkozy said: "We aren't supporting him because he's Italian. We're supporting him because he's an excellent candidate."

In a nod to Italian concerns, yesterday's joint French-Italian letter also calls for the European Union's border agency, Frontex, to be strengthened and for greater support from Brussels for those states, like Italy, most exposed to immigration.

Professor James Walston of the American University in Rome said the main reason for Mr Berlusconi's decision to back France's new border restrictions was to defuse the diplomatic crisis. "Italy issued those temporary permits of dubious legality. This is a way for Mr Berlusconi to paper over the cracks and appear tough on immigration," he said.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star