Former French minister Mr Barnier has announced he wants to suspend immigration to France for up to five years and toughen checks on the EU’s external borders. In what is seen as a pitch to lead the centre-right Les Republicains into next year’s presidential elections, Mr Barnier said in comments aimed at sapping support from rival candidate Marine Le Pen: “I think that effectively we need to take some time, between three to five years, and suspend immigration. “I’m not talking about students, I’m not talking about refugees who must be treated with humanity and strength.
“But we need to rebuild the whole process.”
Mr Barnier has previously warned that France could follow the UK out of the EU amid “social unrest and anger” over immigration and Europe’s failure to defend its borders.
He said Paris should hold talks with its EU allies about how to strengthen the bloc’s border controls and about the passport-free Schengen Zone.
Mr Barnier added: “The problems with immigration are not moderate… we need to talk to our neighbours about the Schengen Agreement, we possibly need to put in stricter border controls.”
The comments made on Sunday on French television come as Mr Barnier, who represented the EU in Brexit negotiations from 2019 to 2021, seeks to drum up interest in a bid for the presidency next year.
So far the ex-minister, a member of the conservative Les Républicains party, is not considered among the main challengers to President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election bid.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, French MEP Philippe Olivier, who also serves as special adviser to National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, explained why he does not stand a chance.
He said: “Michel Barnier is not even French.
“He is a Europeanist, but not French.
“He is all the more ridiculous because he thinks that maybe because he has achieved something on a European level this would qualify him to represent something for France.
“He thinks the EU can send a governor here, but he doesn’t realise French people don’t want it.
“French people showed that in 2005 when they voted against the EU constitution in a referendum.”
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Mr Olivier added: “In France, presidential elections are a contract between a candidate and the people of France.
“It is a bit like voting for a Queen or a King.
“It is evident that a person who has been sent by an international organisation stands absolutely no chance.”
A recent poll published in the French newspaper Le Monde showed Ms Le Pen garnering 43 percent of support compared to Mr Macron’s 57 percent.
Even though he has not yet announced whether he will be running again or not, what is certain is that Mr Macron has seen his current presidential term marred by unpopular actions on a whole host of domestic issues alongside his divisive handling of the pandemic.
In another interview with Express.co.uk, German MEP Gunnar Beck claimed Ms Le Pen could make a huge difference in Europe if elected French President.
Mr Beck argued the eurosceptic could revolutionise Brussels and put an end to EU integration.
He said: “In terms of EU policy, France is the most important country in Europe.
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“Some say it is Germany, but they are wrong. We saw it during the eurozone crisis.
“Generally, the French have prevailed.
“If Le Pen became President, there would be enormous change… particularly on subjects like migration.
“On the euro, there will be a different approach and there will be a recalibration.”
Mr Beck also claimed her election would be a surprise for the extreme integrationists and “a huge boost for the eurosceptics”.
He added: “Most importantly, it will put a stop to the process towards an ever closer union.
“It could be the most important event of European history in decades and it will fundamentally upset the Germans.
“Even more than Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.”
The first round of the presidential election is due to take place in April 2022.
The second round is held two weeks later between the two candidates who receive the most votes.