France stalls on border deal

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The Independent Online


France will today request a six-month extension of the trial period for implementing the Schengen accord, which lifts border controls between European Union countries. The decision, which caused the first open split in President Jacques Chirac's tightly-regimented administration, was announced last night by the French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, on a television programme.

Mr Juppe, regarded as a Europhile when foreign minister, said the accords were "not working as they ought to work; the external controls are not good enough". The agreement, which came into force on 26 March, abolished identity checks between member countries, while setting up a data-exchange system on "undesirable aliens" and providing for stronger external EU borders. Seven countries have signed the agreement, including France, Germany and Benelux. Italy and Greece join at the end of the year, but Britain does not intend to join. The three-month trial period, which ends at the beginning of July, is to be reviewed at a meeting today in Brussels.

Mr Juppe also cited "the way visas are issued by certain of our partners' consulates across the world", which, he said, did not check on whether "we are not receiving undesirable illegal immigrants."

He said that he had instructed France's European Affairs Minister, Michel Barnier, to request a further trial period of six months at the meeting in Brussels.

"The system is not working well enough for us to enter the final phase. Another six months is needed to perfect the system," he said.

By asking for an extension, France is risking the wrath of Germany and the Benelux countries, which have argued that France should implement the agreement in full. Germany, which worries about President Chirac's commitment to European institutions, is believed to have pressed France not to postpone implementation.

The French Interior Minister, Jean-Louis Debre, had argued for a postponement, while the Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, was believed to accept the German view. In a statement to the French National Assembly before the Cannes European summit, Mr de Charette mentioned the Schengen agreement only in passing and said many of the things said to be wrong with it could be put right by France.

Whose fault was it, he asked, that the motorway borders in northern France were not effectively policed?