Libya row sparks debate on European border controls


A travel row between Libya and Switzerland has ignited a debate in Europe over how Schengen member states determine who can enter the borderless zone.

Tripoli has stopped issuing visas to the 25 Schengen nations in retaliation for a decision by Switzerland, a member of the group, to bar entry to 188 Libyan citizens including the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi and his family.

The Swiss move prevents the Libyan citizens from entering any Schengen state and has raised concerns about lucrative business links between European companies and Libya, a major oil producer.

Several European Union governments now want more say on who is barred entry to the passport-free zone that includes most of the EU as well as Norway and Iceland, diplomats said.
“The thinking is that maybe it would be a good idea if all member states had access to blacklists compiled by others so they can have a discussion on their composition,” one EU diplomat said.

A preliminary discussion on the issue is expected on the sidelines of a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels today.

Italy, which has strong trade links with Libya, has accused Switzerland of misusing the Schengen agreement and taking its members “hostage”.

Austrian foreign minister Michael Spindelegger said during a meeting of EU foreign ministers this week that better coordination was needed in how the blacklists are used.

Under Schengen, member states are obligated to refuse visas to citizens of third countries blacklisted by other nations in the group.

Created in 1985, the Schengen agreement includes a database storing names of criminal suspects and stolen cars for checks at its external borders.

Since inception, Schengen has helped boost trade and tourism among its roughly 400 million citizens, who can fly without passports and drive through international borders without stopping.

But easy travel has added to concerns among some EU states over how to stop illegal immigration, particularly from North Africa.

The EU’s Spanish presidency will today discuss ways to end the standoff between Berne and Tripoli. EU ministers will also talk about ways to strengthen the bloc’s border control agency, Frontex, and the reform of a system used to share information within Schengen.