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Last updated: May 22, 2014 9:05 am
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, has made a last minute entry into the campaign for Sunday’s European parliamentary elections, in an effort to stave off a threatened defeat for the mainstream right in France by the far-right National Front.
Mr Sarkozy broke a two-year near silence on political issues to call for radical change in the way the EU is run, including Franco-German primacy over the eurozone, a clampdown on immigration and a big reduction in power for Brussels. But he matched this with a ringing defence of the underlying importance of the union.
Without naming the anti-EU FN, he said those who wanted Europe to break up “forget the lessons of history and will lead us to the abyss”.
In a long article in Le Point magazine and the German newspaper Die Welt, Mr Sarkozy said: “France and Europe are inseparable geographically, historically, culturally and, now, politically. Europe should be vigorously saluted and supported.”
His appeal came as polls showed the FN, headed by Marine Le Pen, leading the European election race in France with as much as 25 per cent of the vote, ahead of Mr Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP. Such an outcome would be a blow to both the UMP and to President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist party, which is trailing in third place.
Mr Sarkozy’s pitch was a clear attempt to reconcile splits within the UMP between eurosceptics and europhiles that have undermined its campaign against the FN. A group of 40 UMP parliamentarians, led by Henri Guaino, a former aide to Mr Sarkozy, recently published a newspaper article dissenting from the party’s official pro-EU line, calling the union “a bureaucratic machine that day by day is reducing liberty and democracy”.
But Ms Le Pen dismissed Mr Sarkozy’s proposals as the same promises he made when in power but never fulfilled.
“[Mr Sarkozy] is a euro-idiot who does not believe in France any more and who worships Europe like a religion, submitting himself systematically to the will of Germany,” she said in a statement.
In his article, Mr Sarkozy acknowledged “deep anxiety” about the EU. Warning of the risk of a British withdrawal, he said it required a “profound” overhaul, with deeper integration within the 18-strong eurozone, to be driven by France and Germany, matched by a “drastic” diminution of powers for the wider union of 28 members, as the UK has demanded.
Addressing the issue of immigration, the focus of much anti-EU rhetoric, Mr Sarkozy said if action was not taken rapidly to control the inflow from outside the EU, “our social contract will explode”.
He said there should be an immediate suspension of the Schengen agreement on open borders within most EU countries, to be replaced by a “Schengen 2” which countries could join only if they imposed a common immigration policy.
Mr Sarkozy called for “a great Franco-German economic zone at the heart of the euro” that would lead the single currency. He said there should no longer be equal rights within the eurozone for smaller members such as Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg, adding it was a reality “there is not one Europe but two” that should develop “in different directions”.
Arguing that the EU of 28 had become “an administrative labyrinth”, he wrote: “There is no alternative to drastically diminishing the extent of [its] competences.”
A number of UMP figures had urged Mr Sarkozy to speak out, believing his popularity among party supporters could help swing the election. Although beaten two years ago by Mr Hollande, the former president remains the choice among UMP activists to return as the party’s candidate in the next presidential election in 2017.
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