On the eve of the EU elections, France’s main opposition party, the UMP, lashed out at the Schengen agreement. Nicolas Sarkozy resurfaced and echoed this sentiment in an opinion piece published by the French weekly Le Point. EURACTIV France reports.
Schengen was strongly criticised during the UMP’s national meeting on Wednesday, 21 May. Jean-François Copé and his centre-right party painted a bleak picture of the Schengen area.
The meeting brought together the UMP’s top candidates for this weekend’s European elections, including Nadine Morano, Michèle Alliot-Marie and Alain Lamassoure, as well as some past governmental officials, such as the former French Prime Ministers, François Fillon and Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The current EU Commissioner for France, Michel Barnier, and the President of the European People’s Party (EPP), Joseph Daul, were also present.
“The Europe that we do not like is one that refuses to admit that Schengen does not work,” stated Jean-François Copé. “When a country does not control its borders, it is its duty to leave the Schengen area, not to turn in on itself as proposed by Marine Le Pen!” he continued.
This is a turnaround from the party’s European Programme last April, when the UMP said it would simply “suspend France’s participation in Schengen agreements” if no serious progress was made in the next 12 months. The UMP does not want France to exit from the Schengen area, but demands to see reforms.
Schengen II: more selective
The most surprising critique of the Schengen area came from Nicolas Sarkozy, former President of France. He published an opinion piece in Le Point defending Europe on 22 May. In it, he denounces the Schengen area in its current form.
>> Read in Le Point: Nicholas Sarkozy’s opinion piece
“It is obvious that Schengen must be suspended immediately and replaced by Schengen II, which countries can enter if they adopt the same immigration policies. Then it will be possible to put an end to administrative abuses that allow foreigners to enter the Schengen area, and once in, choose where the best social benefit schemes are (…). If we do not quickly react in the coming years, our social pact will explode,” said the former President.
Deeply divided on the future of Europe, the UMP is struggling to present a united front on the issue. The national meeting took place in the absence of those who spoke out against the UMP’s “pro-European” project over the past few weeks, such as Laurent Wauquiez or Henri Guaino.
Jean-François Copé tried to brush this ideological divide under the carpet. “There have been one or two, or three who disagree” admitted the President of the UMP, but insisted that the UMP “family was united”.
“The debate on Europe is nothing new,” said the former French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, making reference to past disputes with Charles Pasqua or Philippe Seguin.
The Bygmalion case
More problems for the UMP are on the horizon. Jean-François Copé is suspected of having favoured the Bygmalion communication agency, and has promised to shed some light on the issue after the European elections.
The Bygmalion case involves Jérôme Lavrilleux, the director of Jean-François Copé’s cabinet, who is also a top candidate for the European elections in France’s Northwest Constituency.
For weeks, the polls have put the National Front and the UMP neck and neck in the European elections, far ahead of the French Socialist Party. In a recent poll by Ipsos-Steria for French newspapers Le Monde, Marine Le Pen’s National Front receives 23.5% of vote intentions whereas Jean-François Copé’s party has 22.5%.
The Socialist Party received 17% of voting intentions, in front of the centrist UDI-MoDem alliance (9%), the French Green Party (8%) and the Left Front (7.5%).