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Sarkozy border threat

News Current affairs 13.03.2012 Aaron Grunwald
Photo: Council of the European Union (archives)

Politics: The French president has called for a revision to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for the free movement of people around the Greater Region and much of Europe.

Speaking at a major political campaign rally in the Paris region for his centre-right party UMP on Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy said that European governments should control the Schengen zone’s borders, not European Commission “technocrats” and the courts. He warned that unless--within the next 12 months--the number of migrants entering Europe were significantly reduced and a revamped accord on external border controls was reached, he would withdraw France from the Schengen area.

Sarkozy (photo, left, with Luxembourg’s prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker in January) faces a tough battle for re-election. Most French polls place him second behind socialist candidate François Hollande. Political commentators quoted in the French press said Sarkozy’s comments are a clear attempt to shore-up support among conservative voters, many of whom may support Martine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front party. Voting will take place in two rounds, on April 22 and May 6.

The French president’s remarks garnered a rebuke from Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn on Monday. “Questioning, weakening or destroying Schengen to please National Front voters is anti-European and populist,” he was quoted by Germany news agency DPA as saying. “Asselborn noted that reforms were underway to deal with problems thrown up by the Schengen system,” the agency reported.

Last summer, in response to an increase in migration from Arab Spring countries, France temporarily introduced border checks along its frontier with Italy and said it could extend the programme.Nicolas Schmit, Luxembourg’s immigration minister, told Delano at the time that he did not think widespread border controls would be re-instated.

However, if they were re-introduced, “it would be a catastrophe,” Schmit said in June. “Thousands of commuters being controlled once they enter Luxembourg or they re-enter France. It would become an economic--I would even say an ecologic--catastrophe because people would spend not one hour in a traffic jam, but two or three hours. So it is an absurd approach to the real problems. We have to explain to the people that it’s not a security issue as they always say.”

The 1985 Schengen Agreement is named after the south-eastern Luxembourg town where it was signed. The free movement zone includes all EU member states except Ireland and the UK, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.