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Berlusconi, Sarkozy call for Schengen reform at Rome summit

media Berlusconi (R) and Sarkozy shake hands during a post-summit news conference … Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

France and Italy jointly called for the European Union's Schengen accord to be reformed to allow member states to reimpose internal border controls more easily. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed on a letter outlining their demands to EU leaders at a summit in Rome, which also discussed Libya, Syria and French incursions into the Italian economy.

"We both believe that in exceptional circumstances there should be variations to the

Dossier: Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution

Schengen treaty," Berlusconi told reporters after the meeting. Sarkozy said a joint letter had been sent to EU leaders.

The call comes after a row between the two countries which blew up when Italy issued temporary residence permits and travel documents to migrants fleeing north Africa.

Rome complains that it has been left alone to handle an influx boosted by revolutions in the region, while France has accused it of dumping Tunisians, many of whom speak French and want to go to the former colonial power.

THE BATTLE FOR LIBYA

The 1985 Schengen treaty allowed passport-free travel to 400 million people in 25 nations which signed the pact.

Both Berlusconi and Sarkozy, who faces a presidential election next year, are under right-wing pressure on immigration at a time in which unrest in north Africa has displaced thousands of people around the Mediterranean.

Other questions discussed by the two leaders included:

  • Syria – they called for an end to the "violent repression" of peaceful protests but Sarkozy said that any foreign intervention would have to be sanctioned by the UN Security Council;
  • Libya – Sarkozy declared “we are optimistic” about the outcome of a revolt against President Moamer Kadhafi, the day after Italy announced it will participate in Nato air strikes after initial reluctance due to Italy's colonial history in the country;
  • Italian companies – on the day that French company Lactalis launched a controversial takeover bid for Italy’s Parmalat, Berlusconi assured reporters that both countries have a “shared desire” to set up “big Franco-Italian or Italo-French groups, which can face up to global competition”;
  • European Central Bank - Sarkozy offered his backing for Italian central bank governor Mario Draghi's bid to replace France's Jean-Claude Trichet as head of the European Central Bank later this year, declaring, “He is a person of high quality."
     

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