Paris under fire for stalling on open borders row

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The Independent Online
AParis - President Jacques Chirac, already at odds with many European Union nations over France's nuclear tests, came under fire yesterday for saying that France might further delay a plan to scrap border controls.

Belgium called in the French ambassador, and the Interior Minister, Johan Vande Lanotte, head of the executive committee overseeing the Schengen accord for opening frontiers between seven EU nations, bluntly said that Paris's attitude was unacceptable.

"I asked the ambassador to say if France takes the work of this group seriously and if they want to continue," Mr Vande Lanotte said.

"France is not treating us as a neighbour and as a partner but as a country on which it wants to impose its own method, and this we cannot accept," he said.

He dismissed France's worry about drug traffickers, saying Belgium had more problems with French thieves than the other way around.

The Netherlands, another partner in the Schengen pact, said it saw no reason to to extend the French opt-out.

"We are assuming the Schengen Treaty will go ahead as planned, resulting in full implementation on January 1 [1996]. We shall keep the French to their obligations under the treaty," said the junior foreign minister, Michiel Patijn.

A new drugs bill unveiled by the government last week indicated Dutch willingness to step up co-operation in the fight against drugs tourism, he added. "But if they've now got all kinds of new complaints then we have a problem."

Visiting a Franco-Belgian border crossing on Tuesday, Mr Chirac said he would "very probably" seek to delay implementation of the Schengen agreement beyond the end of 1995. Without naming any countries, he said: "Without a substantial change in the habits and the behaviour of our partners, the situation as I see it leads me to believe that France will have to request a prolongation of controls."

The other Schengen countries are Germany, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.

France has already delayed full implementation of Schengen, which began in March, from 1 July. It tightened border checks after a wave of bomb attacks began in late July, killing seven people and injuring more than 130. France suspects that Algerian Muslim extremists are behind the bombings.

Gerard Fuchs, a spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party, said Mr Chirac should name the countries he was criticising. n A large majority of French people remain sceptical about Europe, according to a poll published yesterday. Eighty-one per cent of those questioned said "France's problems should be resolved first before we go forward further with Europe," according to the IFOP survey, AFP reports.

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