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France moves to bring back border checks

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17:44 CEST+02:00

France and Germany have begun moves to reclaim powers to close their borders for up to 30 days in a simmering battle over immigration pressures on Europe's passport-free Schengen travel zone.

In a joint letter to the European Union's Danish chair seen by AFP ahead of talks among interior ministers in Luxembourg on April 26, France's Claude Guéant and Germany's Hans-Peter Friedrich say the Schengen set-up, which abolished frontier controls in 1995, needs a radical revamp.

Schengen refers to an area that is home to 400 million Europeans and covers 25 states.

Guéant and Friedrich said that where a government within the area fails to meet its obligations to manage external frontiers – Greece for one is under intense migratory pressures at Europe's south-eastern fringe – partners should have "the possibility, as a last resort, to reintroduce internal frontiers for a period not greater than 30 days".

Currently, only the European Commission, or EU civil service, can decide short-term emergency blocks on individual frontier pressure-points.

The ministers also insisted that such decisions should not be left to permanent Brussels officials – but be left as the sole preserve of national ministers voting in the European Council of EU member states.

Fighting to hold onto power ahead of Sunday's first-round election, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a rally last month that without "serious progress" on a rewrite of the Schengen treaty over the coming year, "France would then suspend its participation in the Schengen accords until negotiations conclude".

Once inside Schengen, illegal immigrants can theoretically move freely between the participating states.

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