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Berlusconi, Sarkozy meet over migrants

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Rome (UPI) Apr 25, 2011
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi prepares to host French President Nicolas Sarkozy Tuesday for talks aimed at diffusing differences over the mass influx of African migrants, in a meeting that could pave the way for a watering-down of the free travel agreements in Europe.

French-Italian relations aren't at their best at the moment.

Paris and Rome have accused each other of undermining, with their migrant policies the Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border checks within most of the European Union and has been hailed as a cornerstone of European integration and solidarity.

Italy recently handed migrants from Libya and Tunisia, a former French colony, temporary residency permits. This prompted French authorities to block trains arriving from Italy to stop a migrant influx, with both sides accusing each other of foul play.

The governments had already disagreed over NATO's intervention in Libya, pushed strongly by Sarkozy and questioned by Berlusconi, who is known for his good ties to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

After pan-European disagreements over bailing out indebted eurozone member states, the recent migrant row once again reveals that under pressure, politicians in Europe are likely to choose domestic interests over EU solidarity.

Around 25,000 migrants from North Africa have arrived in Italy since the revolutions in Tunisia and Libya.

Berlusconi and Sarkozy are expected to talk about new migrant and asylum policies that could be proposed to fellow EU leaders at their next summit in Brussels.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the Schengen agreement should be re-evaluated.

"All treaties inevitably grow old," he told the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore. "The Berlin wall of North Africa has come down and the context in which these treaties and I think also the Lisbon treaty, were written has changed radically."

National governments can already -- and have done so several times in the past -- temporarily suspend Schengen due to national security or health concerns but observers doubt that the current influx of migrants qualifies. Germany has called on Italy to solve the crisis alone.

Over the past weeks, Italian authorities have struggled to relocate the migrants from their arrival point, the tiny island of Lampedusa, with aid groups warning of a humanitarian crisis caused by worsening hygiene.

Italy has demanded more help and money from the European Union and Tunisia to stem the crisis. Italian leaders have also called for more solidarity with Italy across the 27-member EU.

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