Europe moves to end passport-free travel

Road haulage delays could result as European countries move to re-instate border controls. European interior ministers have agreed to “radical revision” of the Schengen agreement that allows free movement of people between member states amid fears of a flood of migrants from North Africa.

France and Italy drove the policy shift, panicked in recent weeks over a small influx of refugees from Tunisia, and supported by 15 of the 22 EU states which had signed up to Schengen.

The issue will be discussed at a summit of EU prime ministers and presidents next month and the “reforms” of the Schengen system also need to go through the European parliament.

The policy shift has also been triggered by acute nervousness about the impact of the Arab uprising. “There are hundreds of thousands on the shores of north Africa. Something extraordinary could happen any day,” said a senior EU diplomat quoted in London’s Guardian newspaper. “If Gaddafi uses this weapon, he can create a lot of problems for Europe.”

The move to curb freedom of travel has been triggered by a Danish decision to unilaterally introduce border controls in the form of customs checks, which the Schengen agreement permits.

Despite the ‘fortress Europe’ mood gripping EU leaders, the Danish decision stunned many because it was taken just hours before an emergency EU meeting devoted to immigration and the Schengen regime.

While a consensus has emerged among EU governments on rowing back on Schengen, the European commission maintained that national passport and border controls could only be reintroduced “as a last resort”, temporarily in extreme circumstances.