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Italy plays down talk of wanting to quit EU

Maroni insists migrant visas are valid for Schengen-area travel

12 April, 16:41
Italy plays down talk of wanting to quit EU (ANSA) - Luxembourg, April 12 - Italy played down talk of wanting to quit the EU Tuesday after Interior Minister Roberto Maroni questioned the value of membership given the lack of European help in dealing with its migrant crisis.

''Europe is and will (always) be an extraordinary opportunity for us,'' Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said at the fringes of a meeting of his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

''Italy without Europe would not only be so small as to be insignificant, it would also be incapable of facing the great challenges in front of us.

''So we will keep going forward with Europe, while demanding a role for Europe that has not been present in this situation''.

Maroni questioned Italy's EU future after being disappointed in European states' unwillingness to share the burden of around 28,000 migrants to arrive this year following turmoil in North Africa at an interior ministers' meeting Monday.

The Italian government has started issuing the mostly Tunisian migrants wanting to reunite with family members in other parts of Europe with temporary visas.

But France and other countries have said they will continue to block the migrants at their borders, despite the Schengen treaty that in theory abolished internal frontiers in much of the continent.

Frattini suggested Maroni had just been letting off steam and that he had good reason to do so.

''I don't think Minister Maroni said we should leave Europe,'' Frattini said.

''He expressed his profound disappointment in a moment of disillusion and anger that we can understand, although we have to stay calm.

''One wonders whether, after the Lisbon Treaty, Europe is a political union or not. In this situation it has not been''.

Frattini said this was shown by the fact that Italy had to reach a bilateral agreement with the new government in Tunisia to boost measures to stem the flow of migrants in exchange for aid and assistance.

''If the Lisbon Treaty had been truly applied, those negotiations would have been conducted by Europe,'' the foreign minister said. MARONI SAYS DOUBTS OVER VISAS 'MISTAKEN'.

Maroni, meanwhile, insisted Tuesday that the contested temporary visas are valid for travel within the Schengen area despite other states' refusal to accept them and European Commission saying the papers on their own do not guarantee freedom to circulate. France, in particular, has said the migrants must also have a valid identity document and sufficient economic resources to support themselves, among other things.

But Maroni remains convinced the Italian government is in the right.

''We are certain the doubts over whether the papers permit circulation within the Schengen area are mistaken and I expect the Commission to study immediate measures so that these people are accepted where they want to go or repatriated,'' he told the House's constitutional and foreign affairs committees.

Maroni added that Italian government lawyers, some European interior ministers and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom agreed with this position.

The minister said the countries that had left Italy alone to handle the crisis were ''short-sighted'', but stressed that the Commission had been supportive.

He added that he was hopeful that the agreement with Tunisia would stem the flow of migrants from there, but expressed concerns about large numbers of Africans arriving via conflict-hit Libya.

photo: Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.