Sarkozy’s comments draw fire in Parliament
By Nathalie Vandystadt and Gaspard Sebag in Strasbourg | Tuesday 13 March 2012
Unsurprisingly, Nicolas Sarkozy’s threat to take France out of the Schengen area if reinforced illegal immigration controls are not put in place within a year has caused an outrage at the European Parliament’s plenary session, on 13 March. Even the European right, the ‘political family’ of the French president has had to try to smooth the rough edges to appease the storm and defend the European Commission and the “collective” work of the EU countries.
The head of the Liberal Democrats, Guy Verhofstadt, is incensed and has compared Sarkozy to Marine Le Pen, the president of the Front national, the French extreme right party, which is currently in third place in the polls for the 2012 presidential elections. “Saying that half of the immigrants have to leave France, as President Sarkozy has done, attacking halal meat, and at the same time attacking other partners [European partners] with regard to Schengen, makes me wonder who is in fact the extreme-right candidate – is it Le Pen or is it Sarkozy?” Verhofstadt answered Jean-Pierre Audy (EPP, France), who was laughed at in the EP when he claimed that “Nicolas Sarkozy has always defended Schengen, and does not wish to abolish it, but rather to strengthen it”. “Such a declaration from a French president is scandalous, even as part of an electoral campaign,” said Hannes Swoboda (Austria), the leader of the Socialist group.
The leader of the EPP group, Joseph Daul (France), deliberately stayed out of the controversy, preferring instead to continue targeting the Dutch extreme-right party of Geert Wilders. “If President Sarkozy incites hatred, I will be just as intransigent with him. But Sarkozy has not made calls inciting hatred,” he stressed. Nevertheless, Daul backed the Commission, which has already made proposals that are currently being discussed – namely at France’s request. “To me, the law is the Commission [proposed by the Commission - Ed], and if it isn’t working well, improvement will be arrived at through collective work, with all the member states that participate and have their say,” the MEP concluded.
The previous day, on television, Sarkozy repeated his attacks on the Schengen system, which is the basis of one of the fundamental principles of the EU, the free movement of persons without passport checks at the internal borders. “Schengen has been applied since 1995, in other words for 17 years. Seventeen years, and it’s not working,” the incumbent president claimed, targeting the “border between Greece and Turkey,” which “is not defended,” “is not controlled, or managed”.
But Schengen is part of the treaty and any change would require a change of treaty, the Commission recalled. “I propose that Sarkozy attend a seminar on Europe. I am prepared to sacrifice a weekend to explain Europe to him,” the Co-Chair of the Greens, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said sarcastically.