President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened in a key election rally on Sunday to pull France out of Europe's 26-nation visa free zone unless the European Union does more to keep out illegal immigrants.

"/> President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened in a key election rally on Sunday to pull France out of Europe's 26-nation visa free zone unless the European Union does more to keep out illegal immigrants.

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Sarkozy threatens to quit Schengen zone

President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened in a key election rally on Sunday to pull France out of Europe's 26-nation visa free zone unless the European Union does more to keep out illegal immigrants.

Sarkozy threatens to quit Schengen zone
World Economic Forum

Sarkozy, who this week said France had too many foreigners, made the threat at a mass meeting which he hopes will turn the tide against front running Socialist Francois Hollande with just 42 days to go before election day.

The so-called Schengen passport-free zone must urgently be overhauled to fight the flow of illegal immigration, said the right-wing leader, returning to a constant theme in his bid for five more years at the Elysee palace.

To chants of “Nicolas, president!” from the tens of thousands in the flag-waving audience, Sarkozy said unchecked immigration would put extra strain on social safety nets for Europe’s poorest.

“In the coming 12 months, (if) there is no serious progress towards this (reforming Schengen), France would then suspend its participation in the Schengen accords until negotiations conclude,” he declared.

The Schengen area is home to 400 million Europeans who can cross borders without a passport, and once inside the area illegal immigrants can theoretically move freely between the participating states.

Sarkozy accuses some EU states of having lax border controls that let in illegals who may later turn up in France.

Sarkozy’s UMP party chartered TGV high-speed trains and fleets of buses to ferry supporters from across France for the rally in a cavernous exhibition hall in Villepinte, near Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

Sarkozy also said he wanted the EU to introduce a “Buy European Act” based on a US measure that obliges the state to use domestically produced products in public contracts.

If the European Union did not do this within a year, he would, if re-elected in the two-round vote in April and May, implement a unilateral “Buy French” law, he said.

“I want a Europe that protects its citizens. I no longer want this savage competition,” he told the crowd, which the UMP estimated at 70,000. He rejected the idea of “a Europe that opens up its markets when others do not”, he said.

“I have lost none of my will to act, my will to make things change, my belief in the genius of France,” he insisted.

Sarkozy produced few surprises, sticking to familiar themes such as immigration and portraying himself as the steady captain steering France through the economic storm.

He got the loudest cheer of the rally when he reminded his supporters he had banned Islamic veils in France and was opposed to having special Islamic halal meals in school canteens.

“It was to give back to women control of their destiny that we wanted to ban the burqa…,” he told the crowd.

Sarkozy a week ago picked up on a debate about halal meat launched by Le Pen, declaring that its spread was a major problem for the French.

But his critics have accused him of fishing for support from voters who lean towards the National Front, the anti-immigrant, anti-EU party led by Marine Le Pen, who polls put in third place in the presidential race.

Hollande, who has never held a ministerial post and whose ex-partner Segolene Royal lost to Sarkozy in 2007, this week pressed home his attacks on his rival’s record in five years at the Elysee palace.

He mocked Sarkozy’s plan to slap a new tax on the profits of listed companies. The president said Tuesday it would bring in up to €3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) a year to help cut the public deficit.

An OpinionWay-Fiducial opinion poll on Thursday forecast that Hollande would take 29 percent of the vote in the first round, with Sarkozy at 26 percent and Le Pen third at 17 percent.

Hollande, who has enjoyed a clear lead for five months, would romp home in the second round with 56 percent, well ahead of Sarkozy at 44 percent, the poll said.

Among the celebrities at the rally were actress Emmanuelle Seigner, wife of Roman Polanski, and actor Gerard Depardieu.

Depardieu described the president as frank and honest and said that since Sarkozy had been in power, “I only hear bad things about this man who only does good”.

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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson

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