Last week Italy was given a warning by Germany, France, Russia and Switzerland over the country’s decision to grant more than 25,000 Schengen Visas to Tunisian economic migrants who have been fleeing the country on fishing boats in droves since the start of the year. The European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, has also called for ‘strong and clear action’ from the Tunisian Government in return for 140 million Euros in extra aid which it is considering for 2011 – 2013, on top of an existing 257 million Euro budget.
So far this year 25,000 Tunisians (who are considered ‘economic migrants’ rather than ‘asylum seekers’) have landed on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, with many more expected to make the trip in the near future. Tunisians have been leaving the country in great numbers following the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January this year and the loosening of border controls.
Schengen Visas allow individuals to move freely throughout the Schengen Area for a period of up to 90 days; however the visa does not allow holders to work in the EU. Many countries are concerned that more than 25,000 people will now try to find employment in the EU, some of whom on official work permits but others working illegally in member states. The Schengen area was created to make it easy to travel between the many countries that make up Europe. Prior to the introduction of the are individuals had to carry a passport and clear immigration each time they wished to mover between countries, this caused major problems especially for business people wishing to work across many European countries.
On Friday the French Government said that “The governance of Schengen is failing. It seems there is a need to reflect on a mechanism that will allow, in case of a systemic failure of an external (EU) border, to intervene through a provisional suspension, until such time as the weakness is corrected.\”
According to Franco Frattini, Italy’s Foreign Minister, “the Schengen accords, which are one of the two pillars of Europe along with the euro, cannot be questioned. But the issue is to analyse how this instrument is adapted to our times and to a world which changes rapidly. In short, a technical control. Nobody and neither France wants to damage the treaty.\”
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