Sarkozy pins poll hopes on stemming human tide


IN AN appeal to the right – in an election in which he is trailing – the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has threatened to withdraw France from Europe’s visa-free zone unless more is done to stop illegal immigration.
In a major speech at a rally on Sunday that formally launched his campaign, Mr Sarkozy told 30,000 cheering supporters that reform was “the only way to avoid the implosion of Europe”.
France would suspend its membership of the Schengen agreement, which allows easy travel for citizens in 25 countries, unless there was progress over the next year, he said.
Illegal immigrants would threaten European civilisation and “our way of life”, he said.
“If France does not take the lead, nothing will happen. If nothing happens, Europe will lose its place in the world. Give Europe control of its future, give France control over its destiny,” Mr Sarkozy said.
This continues the theme he raised last week with comments that France had too many foreigners and that the number of immigrants should be halved. He also suggested unsuspecting French people were eating halal meat without knowing it, sparking protests from Jewish and Muslim communities that they were being made scapegoats.
Mr Sarkozy, whose slogan is “Strong France”, will seek a second term of office in the first of two rounds of presidential elections on April 22.
He has been struggling for months to catch up with Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in opinion polls. After three years of economic gloom his popularity is at record lows and he is thought to be courting supporters of extreme right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen.
Mr Sarkozy also demanded more protection for European companies from foreign competition, with laws like the US Buy American Act to make governments give preferential treatment to European-made products.
“That way companies that produce in Europe will benefit from European state money. I want a Europe that protects its citizens. I no longer want this savage competition,” he said.
Rivals have accused him of undermining French sovereignty with his close relationship with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and his support for greater European Union oversight of fiscal matters.
Mr Sarkozy told the rally that by fighting for others, “France was fighting for itself”.
Supporters at the flag-waving rally included his wife, Carla Bruni, the wife of former president and prime minister Jacques Chirac, Bernadette, and the actor Gerard Depardieu, who told the audience: “I only hear bad things about this man who only does good.”
Last week, Mr Sarkozy criticised Mr Hollande for his lack of ministerial and international experience. Unexpectedly, he also said he would leave politics if he loses the election.
Mr Hollande has promised to impose a tax rate of 75 per cent on annual income over €1 million ($1.24 million), a move nearly two-thirds of voters support.
But there have been reports of disunity in the Socialist camp.
Mr Hollande’s former partner of 30 years, Segolene Royal, is expected to be a senior minister if he is elected. But a new book on French politicians and their women by journalist Constance Vergara claims they have each undermined the other’s career at different points and that their ability to work together is compromised by the jealousy of Mr Hollande’s new partner.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.