France election 2012: Nicolas Sarkozy threatens to pull France out of Schengen zone
Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of Europe’s passport-free zone on Sunday unless the EU tightened its borders against illegal immigration in a “make or break” campaign rally before 60,000 supporters outside Paris.
By Henry Samuel, Paris
7:13PM GMT 11 Mar 2012
His call came as the French centre-Right threw its full firepower behind their candidate in Villepinte, near Charles de Gaulle airport, in a huge, glitzy show of force designed to breath new life into his flagging campaign.
Hailed like a prizefighter, Mr Sarkozy climbed the huge white stage to the strains of his campaign anthem and an amended slogan: “Strong France with You”.
Actor Gérard Depardieu lent some star power to proceedings, along with Mr Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and her predecessor as First Lady, Bernadette Chirac.
Days after telling France that he would give up politics if he lost the forthcoming elections, Mr Sarkozy told supporters “I have lost none of my desire to act” before launching into a series of protectionist proposals for France and Europe.
These included suspending France’s participation in the Schengen visa-free zone signed by all 27 EU states bar Britain and Ireland if its rules were not revised to fight illegal immigration in the coming 12 months.
France would stay out of Schengen “until negotiations conclude,” he said.
Since his official campaign launch three weeks ago, Mr Sarkozy has veered Right in a bid to capture the far-Right National Front vote, last week saying there were “too many foreigners in France” and promising to half the influx of migrants.
On Sunday, he said France would not leave policing Europe’s borders to European “technocrats”.
That reiterated a call France made last year when it refused to allow 25,000 Tunisians migrants fleeing revolution back home to cross the southeastern border from Italy, which had issued residence visas.
“We must undertake a reform of Schengen as structural as the reform we have just put in place for the euro,” he said.
His call followed a proposal last week by Britain, France and other European states for an action plan to stem the tide of illegal migration into the EU, the subject of a European Commission report due in May.
In a second salvo, Mr Sarkozy called for a “Buy European Act” that would support buying European products within the continent, along the lines of the “Buy American Act” to support small businesses and domestic industries.
Again, he warned that if the EU failed to implement this within a year he would if re-elected impose a unilateral “Buy French” law.
Otherwise, Mr Sarkozy unveiled few surprises, returning to familiar themes such as painting himself captain in an economic storm and slamming selfish elites and weak-kneed intellectuals acting against the “people”.
The loudest cheer came when he said that he was opposed to separate hours for men and women in swimming pools and Islamic halal meals in school canteens.
Three weeks since he officially launched his re-election campaign, Mr Sarkozy has so far failed to catch up with François Hollande, the Socialist front-runner, who successive polls place ahead in the two-round elections on April 22 and May 6.
He has narrowed the gap in round one, with a poll in yesterday’s Journal du Dimanche putting him just one point behind Mr Hollande on 27 per cent. But he trails him by double digits in round two and aides told Le Parisien: “If he doesn’t scrape back some points in the coming days, it will be all but over.”
“Help me prove them (the polls) wrong,” he implored supporters.
He also laid into Mr Hollande over his pledge renegotiate the European fiscal discipline treaty signed by 25 states, but Britain. “Shame on those who in the name of partisan interests didn’t have the courage to vote it,” he said. One Socialist campaign official replied that the speech was “pathetic … electoralist mishmash”.
The two men came face to face at France’s defeat to England at their rugby six nations match in Paris.
Centrist Modem candidate François Bayrou, currently polling third for round one, was also present at the game. He slammed the rally, which one newspaper estimated as costing £4 million, as “indecent” given the current economic hardships.
This week could prove decisive in the election race ahead of a Friday deadline for candidates to hand in 500 support signatures from French mayors – a prerequisite to run.
Miss Le Pen complained on Saturday that she was still 20 signatures short.
Polling at around 17 per cent in round one, her disqualification would drastically alter the electoral landscape, perhaps boosting Mr Sarkozy’s score, although commentators now believe she will secure them.
Mr Sarkozy’s Gaullist rival Dominique de Villepin is highly unlikely to make the grade, however.