A desperate President Nicolas Sarkozy is playing the race card, frantic to do anything to play on his right wing base as he falls double digits behind Socialist challenger François Hollande as the first French presidential vote on 22 April approaches, with a likely second round 6 May if no candidate wins a clear majority in the first vote.
In fixing on xenophobia, Sarkozy is playing on a sore spot in the European Community political game, as Deutsche Welle noted:
Immigration in particular is a hot-button issue in many parts of Europe. On Wednesday, seven EU countries, including France and Germany, called for an action plan to be drawn up, to stem what they see as a tide of illegal migration into the 27-member bloc.
At the heart of the issue is the Schengen Agreement, the EU pact that allow free movement across borders.
We’ll quit the pact, Sarko threatens
They call him L’Americain for his slavish subservience to American foreign policy, and he certainly sounds like a GOP presidential candidate when it comes to the subject of immigration.
Nikolaj Nielsen reports for EUobserver:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has threatened to pull France out of the EU’s borderless Schengen agreement unless action is taken to reduce the number of illegal immigrants.
Speaking at an election rally on Sunday, Sarkozy said some EU member states are too lax with their borders, enabling unwanted migrants to enter France and causing a heavy burden on its social welfare system.
“At a time of economic crisis, if Europe doesn’t pick those who can enter its borders, it won’t be able to finance its welfare state any longer. We need a common discipline in border controls … We can’t leave the management of migration flows to technocrats and tribunals,” he told around 50,000 supporters at an event in the Paris suburbs ahead of the first round of voting on 22 April.
Schengen lets people travel without passport checks in its 25 participating states, including 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland and is seen as a landmark achievement in EU integration.
“The Schengen Agreement can no longer respond to the seriousness of the situation. It must be revised. There is a need to implement a structural reform that we have implemented for the euro,” Sarkozy said.
More from EurActiv, including a not-so-veiled attack on Greece, the country most damned for its allegedly porous borders with the Islamic world, and more invocation of things American:
“We should be able to punish, suspend or exclude from Schengen a failed state just as we can sanction a eurozone country which does not fulfil its obligations.”
Sarkozy went so far as to suggest that France should leave Schengen, if changes he wants are not implemented within a year.
“If I were to find that within 12 months there was no serious progress in this direction, then France would be able to suspend its participation in the Schengen agreements until negotiations reach their goal,” he said.
At Villepinte, Sarkozy’ s campaign team staged a rally largely reminiscent of US elections. Sarkozy referred to the United States of the Great Depression to plead for Europe to adopt a “Buy European Act” similar to the Buy American Act of 1933 – signed into law on President Herbert Hoover’s last day in office. It required the American government to give preference to US products in its purchases.
If this is not applied at the EU level, Sarkozy vowed that he would introduce the measure unilaterally, if he is re-elected.
“So I solemnly ask the question, why the United States, the most liberal country in the world, authorises itself something Europe is banning for itself. France will ask that Europe adopts a ‘Buy European Act’ modelled on the Buy American Act so that companies that produce in Europe would benefit from European public money,” he said.
“If within 12 months ahead no serious progress on the requirement of reciprocity with our main partners was recorded, then France unilaterally apply this rule until the negotiations succeed.”
A scent of hypocrisy?
Angela Diffley of Radio France Internationale points out a curious contradiction in the Sarkozy strategy:
Sarkozy’s decision to introduce into his election campaign the idea of changing a European Treaty (Schengen is incorporated in the Treaty of Amsterdam) is a risky one – he has until now been extremely critical of Socialist challenger François Hollande’s plan to re-negotiate the delicate fiscal pact agreed by nearly all EU countries after a bad-tempered meeting in December.
Sarkozy hopes that reforms to the Schengen rules will appear to those who might otherwise vote for the National Front and he is gambling that the wider French electorate will trade unrestricted passport-free travel within the Schengen space for tougher controls on those who enter the country.
But Germany’s not buying the rhetoric
From Agence France-Presse:
Germany underlined its support for Europe’s 26-member visa-free zone Monday after French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened at an election rally to pull France out of the pact.
Deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters that Berlin saw Sarkosy’s comments on Sunday as part of campaign rhetoric ahead of France’s two-round vote in April and May.
And he stressed that Germany had no plans to turn its back on the so-called Schengen passport-free zone.
“Free movement of people is one of the most concrete and important achievements of European integration and represents a fundamental freedom,” he said.
And Sarko beats the war drums
No surprise here, but L’Americain is hailing his lead role in the destruction of Libya as another reason to vote for him.
How more American can you get?
From Joseph Bamat of France 24:
Throughout his speech, the incumbent repeated that France had a major and unique role to play on the world stage, underlining its leadership in the international effort to topple former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“When French airplanes flew over the martyr [Libyan rebel-held] city of Benghazi, I knew then that France was honouring its history”. He then demanded the opening of humanitarian aid channels in war-torn Syria, and said that Syrian “assassins would be held accountable” for their crimes.
Sarkozy also said that France would be intransigent when it came to protecting the security of Israel, but that it would demand with “equal force” a state for the Palestinian people.
Near the end of his speech, Sarkozy tackled more domestic concerns, focusing on a ban on public wearing of the full Muslim veil which he said were “contrary to the values of the Republic.”
Call him Nick Sarkozum?
Certainly he he might prefer it to that last name he’s stuck with, what with Sárközy — meaning in Hungarian “from the mud” — being one of the most common names among the Roma people of Hungary, the country of his paternal ancestry.
The Roma [“gypsy”] people were the first targets of state force singled out by Sarko, and they remain high on his list on undesirables.
Deutsche Welle’s Gabriel Borrud adds more context:
Sarkozy, despite keeping quiet on immigration until announcing his campaign, has taken unambiguous steps to convince the French people of his hardliner stance during the past few years.
In 2010, this backfired when the French government aroused international condemnation after pushing through large-scale deportations of Roma from camps located around Paris.
Sarkozy and his police force were accused of singling out Roma camps in their tracking of irregular migration – checks that had been called for explicitly by Sarkozy’s administration. In response, the French government agreed to adapt its immigration policy to “comply with European laws.”
But those changes have yet to come. If anything, French immigration policy has taken an even harder line since, with Interior Minister Gueant even boasting in January that France had deported more “illegal immigrants” in 2011 than ever before.
The divisive minister, who took on the post in April after previously serving as one of Sarkozy’s closest aids, told reporters that French authorities had succeeded in deporting some 32,000 people in 2011, “over 4,000 more than in 2010 – the highest level ever attained.”
Human rights and anti-racism organizations have criticized Gueant for his policy, in particular for propagating a link between immigrants and crime in France. In his latest public appearance Gueant said openly that immigrants are “two to three times more likely to commit crimes than average French nationals.”
Such statements are “scandalous and dangerous things to be saying in the public arena,” Aline Kremer, of SOS Racisme, told DW. Kremer has called on Gueant to refrain from using such rhetoric “immediately” because she says it contributes to the process of “stigmatizing” foreigners.