France's Michel Barnier calls for immigration to stop for up to five years

Former EU Brexit negotiator could seek French presidency in 2022

Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier gestures during the debate on EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, on April 27, 2021. / AFP / JOHN THYS

The EU’s former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wants immigration to France from outside the bloc to be stopped for up to five years.

Mr Barnier, who is tipped to run against Emmanuel Macron in next year’s French presidential election, called for a moratorium so that France could “take the time to verify, evaluate and if necessary change” its immigration policies.

Immigration to Europe is linked to "terrorist networks which use migration flows and infiltrate them," he said.

He said in a pair of TV and radio appearances that the stoppage should last for three to five years and include discussions with other EU nations on policing the external borders of the Schengen area.

As an EU member, France would still be obliged to uphold the free movement of people within the bloc.

“The problems of immigration are not moderate,” Mr Barnier told France 2 television on Tuesday.

“I try as a politician to see problems as they are, the way that French people experience them, and to find solutions.

“I think that we need in effect to take some time, for three or five years, to suspend immigration.

“I’m not talking about students, I’m not talking about refugees, who should be treated with humanity and care.

“But we need to examine all the procedures from all sides. We need to talk to our neighbours on the question of Schengen, which needs to be applied with stricter border controls.”

Asked whether he meant the external Schengen border or internal EU borders, he said: “Yes, the external borders of Europe.”

As chief Brexit negotiator, Mr Barnier bemoaned the limits on free movement brought about by Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

The 70-year-old is tipped as a possible conservative candidate against Mr Macron at the 2022 presidential election.

Gilbert Collard, a French MEP from the far-right National Rally, described Mr Barnier as a “pickpocket” for adopting one of his party’s proposals.

Barnier could join race against Macron in 2022

Mr Barnier has not yet confirmed that he will stand, but dropped a hint in an interview in April when he said that “we need to restore calm to France”.

In another answer, he said: “I’m preparing to be present, and an actor in this presidential debate because I think I can bring something to it.”

A familiar face in Britain during the Brexit negotiations, Mr Barnier faces a challenge to raise his profile and political credibility in France.

He previously served as French foreign, European affairs, environment and agriculture minister, and twice as a European commissioner.

If he entered the race he would likely be up against Mr Macron, 43, and the National Rally's Marine Le Pen, 52, the runner-up at the 2017 election.

Mr Macron is seen as having shifted his own policies to the right in a bid to compete with Ms Le Pen.

Another possible centre-right candidate is Mr Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe, who left his role last year.

On the left, Paris’s Socialist Party mayor Anne Hidalgo says she will decide by the autumn on whether to stand as a candidate.

Meanwhile, Jean-Luc Melenchon of the far-left France Unbowed party, who secured nearly 20 per cent of the vote in 2017, announced his candidacy months ago.

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