Feature

France: Sarkozy rails against illegal immigrants

At a campaign rally, Sarkozy threatened to close France's borders to visa-free travel.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing true leadership—to France, and to Europe, said Yves Thréard in the Paris Le Figaro. At a campaign rally this week, Sarkozy said France would close its borders to visa-free travel unless the European Union cracked down on illegal immigration. The EU has a year to revise the rules of Europe’s visa-free zone, governed by the Schengen accord, or France will pull out of that accord. That is Sarkozy’s firm pledge. What a bracing contrast to the whining of his challenger in the upcoming presidential race, the Socialist François Hollande, who just “shakes his little fists” at the new EU treaty that requires member states to have balanced budgets. “Nobody abroad takes him seriously.” Sarkozy, by contrast, is “the advocate for a strong Europe,” one that is no longer “a sieve.” Such a position is worthy of France’s, and Europe’s, respect.

How can anyone respect such a blatant panderer? asked Paul Quinio in the Paris Libération. With his “arrogant edict on the issue of immigration,” Sarkozy “has dragged Europe into the mire of his electioneering.” Trailing in the polls, he is making his play for the right-wing vote. Last week, he dumped on Muslims with his call for the labeling of halal meat. This week, it’s illegal immigration. “We built Europe to protect ourselves, not to expose ourselves,” Sarkozy said, and he even invoked Joan of Arc. But his sloganeering lacks any coherence whatsoever. He criticizes Hollande as anti-European for wanting to renegotiate the still-unratified treaty on fiscal responsibility, but then turns around and vows to pull out of the long-established Schengen accord.

If Sarkozy lurches any farther rightward, he’ll “fall into the arms of the National Front,” said Rudolf Balmer in the Berlin Die Tageszeitung. All of this is simply a bid to win over the supporters of Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate, who has spoken so passionately about defending the Frenchness of France. Sarkozy is telling them that he understands their fear that “there are too many foreigners in France,” and insists that it’s the fault of European policy. With his ultimatum to the EU, Sarkozy is playing the role of the strong nationalist hero. Such a stance “may delight the patriotic hearts of his followers, but it has little to do with political reality.” The EU has already endorsed new rules, proposed by France last year, that allow member states to reimpose some border controls.

In fact, Sarkozy “may have bungled” by launching an attack on European policy, said Charles Bremner in the London Times. Up until now, the president has been “proclaiming himself the savior of the euro zone” and smearing his rival Hollande as an inexperienced oaf who wants to wreck the EU. This latest proposal of his muddies that distinction. It may win Sarkozy a few Le Pen voters on April 22 in the first round of voting, when a dozen candidates compete. But that won’t be enough to get him a second term. In the runoff two weeks later, Hollande is still the clear favorite—by more than 10 points.

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