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Italy's Northern Border Gets More Monitoring

Silvio Berlusconi
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says Italy will not follow France's example and re-impose border controls with its European neighbors. But in the wake of the London bombings and as fears mount that terrorism will strike in Italy as well, security has been tightened in the northeast, at the frontiers with Austria and Slovenia.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made clear he has no intention of reintroducing European Union (EU) border controls following last week's terrorist attacks in London. Italy is one of 13 EU nations that have signed the Schengen open border agreement.

The agreement, which allows people to travel without having to show identification, emerged outside the framework of the EU and was initially signed by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1985.

Mr. Berlusconi said Italy would not follow the example of France, which Wednesday announced that it would activate a safety clause in the Schengen agreement and re-impose border controls for one month. The decision was a consequence of the terrorist bombings in London July 7.

France's interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy declared, "If we don't reinforce border controls when around 50 people die in London, I don't know when I would do it." France has activated the safety clause before, mainly for major political and sporting events.

Spain's interior minister Jose Antonio Alonso, who is scheduled to meet Friday with Mr. Sarkozy in Madrid has said Spain is prepared to do the same should it become necessary.

Government officials in Italy are taking another stance. The interior minister has announced a tightening of security and controls at its northeastern border with Slovenia and Austria, but they say the Schengen agreement will remain in place.

The president of Italy's parliamentary committee that oversees Schengen, Europol and Immigration, Alberto di Luca, said the French decision was "useless and inopportune."

He said it can certainly be a contribution, but it cannot be the only weapon, because this is not the way to check on terrorists coming in and out of a country.

He added that before considering the complete closure of one's borders, which is certainly damaging to the free circulation of people, other issues should be considered like controls on illegal immigrants and their expulsion.

Mr. di Luca said the decision taken by France is a step backwards in the freedom of movement of people among countries that have signed the Schengen agreement.

Various countries that have signed the Schengen agreement have used the clause to re-impose border controls before. France has used it six times in the past. Belgium used it for the European soccer championship in 2000 and Spain for the royal wedding of Prince Felipe.

But many in Europe feel that as problems of illegal immigration and terrorism continue to worsen, these exceptions risk becoming increasingly frequent.