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Brussels, 25 July 2011

Statement by Commissioner Malmström on the compliance of Italian and French measures with the Schengen acquis

"Recent events in Northern Africa have brought hopes of democratic changes. They have also prompted large numbers of people to flee the region, some of them towards Europe. In reaction, the most affected EU Member States took action to deal with this sudden inflow putting the Schengen system under increasing strain.

In an immediate response, the Commission approached these Member States to get assurances that these actions would respect Schengen rules. Further to additional clarifications by both Member States, the Commission is now in a position to finalise its assessment of the measures taken by Italy and France following the influx of North-African migrants. From a formal point of view steps taken by Italian and French authorities have been in compliance with EU law. However, I regret that the spirit of the Schengen rules has not been fully respected.

We need to ensure a coherent interpretation and a smooth implementation of the Schengen rules, in a spirit of solidarity and mutual trust. Schengen and free movement is one of the most tangible, popular and successful achievements of the European project. I will do my utmost to continue to safeguard this achievement and pave the way for the continuous development of the Schengen acquis.

While steps taken by Italy regarding the issuing of residence permits and travel documents to North-African migrants irregularly present on its territory have not been in breach with EU law, there is scope for clarifying the approach at EU level. For instance, Schengen rules do not currently define the conditions under which Member States may issue travel documents to migrants who lack those of their home country. I believe this is an aspect on which EU guidelines could have an added value. A meeting with Member States experts took place on 20 July and will feed to the reflection on the way forward.

Our analysis also confirms that police checks carried out by French authorities remained within the limits compatible with the Schengen Borders Code. On the basis of the information received on the checks, it can not be concluded that France would have carried out systematic checks in the internal border zone with Italy during the past months.

In fact, all this clearly demonstrates the need to address the Schengen governance in a comprehensive and coordinated way. To increase trust among EU citizens and Member States, the Schengen area also needs a stronger evaluation and monitoring system. A well functioning monitoring system must ensure that rules are respected by all and bring adequate response to situations where a Member State faces problems in managing its section of the EU external border. This can best be done with a more Community based approach. The Commission will present proposals to this effect in September".

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