PHOTO EUROPE AND FRANCE ARE TOO 'OPEN' SARKOZY TOLD PROSPECTIVE LE PEN VOTERS. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
BRUSSELS - In a major speech ahead of elections in five months' time, French leader Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated he wants to curtail EU passport-free travel.
Speaking about the euro crisis in Toulon, on France's Mediterranean coast on Thursday (1 December), he depicted "Europe" as being too "open to the winds" of cheap Chinese imports, cheap labour from former Communist member states and immigrants in general.
"Europe, which has to apply internally the principle of free movement but which does not control its external frontiers - that can't go on. Schengen must be reconsidered," he said, referring to the passport-free Schengen Area, which covers 22 EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
The line - submerged in Sarkozy's grander considerations on how to save the euro - follows on from his earlier attacks on free travel.
France in April blocked Tunisian migrants coming on trains from Italy. Last September, it also began sending Roma back to Bulgaria and Romania in a programme which is still active.
Sarkozy's interior minister, Claude Gueant, also on Thursday kept up the theme.
It is easier for immigrants to integrate if there are fewer of them ... It is obvious that we need to better manage the flow of immigrants. For immigration to work, we need to be welcoming fewer immigrants each year," he told Europe 1 radio.
Sarkozy is catching up with Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in polls ahead of the presidential election in April. But his hopes of victory could rest on poaching voters from the far-right Marine Le Pen, who commands 16 to 20 percent support.
The anti-Schengen trend is bigger than France, as mainstream parties across the bloc adopt the language of an increasingly popular far-right - Denmark and the Netherlands earlier this year also introduced new border security measures.
It could spell bad news for former Communist EU countries, which prize Schengen as a cornerstone of EU integration, and especially for Bulgaria and Romania, which face a Dutch veto on Schengen entry. It is also a bad sign for would-be EU members, such as Turkey and Ukraine, which are fighting for EU visa-free travel in lieu of speedy accession.
Commenting on Russia's bid for EU visa-free entry, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels on Thursday caught the mood saying it will not succeed any time soon.
She noted that even if Brussels and Moscow at a December summit agree on "common steps" on how to drop visas, it will be "a long time before proper negotiations can start."