President Nicolas Sarkozy has threatened to pull France out of the European Union’s visa-free Schengen zone unless the bloc beefs up the EU’s borders.
Sarkozy raised the immigration issue at a campaign rally as polls show he faces a tough battle for re-election in April and May.
“The Schengen agreement no longer lets us respond to the seriousness of the situation. It needs revising. We have to put into force for Schengen a reform that is as structural as the one we have just put in place for the Euro. We cannot leave managing the flow of migrants to the technocrats and courts,” President Sarkozy told supporters in Paris.
Centrist leader and presidential rival Francois Bayrou was quick to react:
“What does it mean to pull out off Schengen? I will tell you, it means to put in place once again the barriers and the borders and the customs officers between France and Spain, France and Italy, and between France and Germany can you believe it?”
Critics say Sarkozy ‘s proposal is aimed at trying to siphon off support from the extreme right, National-Front candidate Marine Le Pen who is snapping at his heals.
Most of the candidates including front runner Socialist Francois Hollande have in recent weeks tapped into French concerns over illegal immigration – concerns which have grown as the country struggles against recession.