In what looks like a calculated outburst on the eve of the elections to the European Parliament, Nicholas Sarkozy, the former president of France, has called for half the powers of the European Union to be abolished and seized back by member states.
Sarkozy also called for the power of initiating all EU legislation to be taken away from the European Commission and given entirely to the European Parliament. He as well wants the free travel area of the Schengen Agreement, in which travel is passport-free between most EU member states, to be abolished.
He also called for a new French-German economic agreement that would leave Britain outside what has been called “the engine of the EU.”
Some observers may suspect that Sarkozy is “getting his retaliation in first” in preparation for the expected triumph of Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU, anti-establishment Front National when the election results are announced on Sunday night. The final polls before the election showed the Front National set to come top, with the UMP centre-right party of Sarkozy second, and the governing socialist party of President François Hollande trailing in third.
Sarkozy may be positioning himself to take on Le Pen in the next presidential election in 2017 with a plan to lure away her millions of eurosceptic supporters by proposing the kind of ruthless reforms of the EU power structure which have never been uttered before by a serving or former French president.
He says he understands their “frustration” and their “anger.”
In a line that could as easily have been spoken by the anti-multicultural Le Pen, he said that for as long as he can remember, “Je me sui toujours senti viscéralement français“– “I have always felt viscerally French.”
Indeed, so ruthless is Sarkozy’s list of changes he is demanding that he may also be trying to position himself as the true reformer of the EU, elbowing aside David Cameron, whose is trying to build an alliance for reform with some northern European member states, but whose list of reforms is timid by comparison with the one Sarkozy has now presented.
Sarkozy certainly wants to ensure that whatever sort of EU emerges from any reforms, Cameron and the United Kingdom are not “at the heart of Europe,” no matter what the British coalition government wants.
Sarkozy instead plans to establish at the core of the EU “une grande zone économique franco-allemande,” a grand French-German economic zone on which the EU should rely.
Yet in the interview, Sarkozy remains “resolutely pro-European.” He tells his fellow countrymen: “We must be European and French.”
He wants to the powers of the EU to remain in such areas as industry, agriculture, competition, trade negotiations, energy and research. He wants a stronger and more integrated eurozone under French leadership.
In the matter of managing migration, which is the policy of the Front National which has put it in front in the polls, Sarkozy says he wants to get rid of the Schengen free travel area (to which Britain does not yet belong) and then create a new area made up only of member states who have agreed a common immigration policy.
“This would put an end to abuse of procedure which allows a foreigner to enter the Schengen area, then once that formality is accomplished he can choose the country where social benefits are more generous… If we do not react rapidly in the coming years, our social pact is going to explode. “
Sarkozy notably did not mention his own party, the UMP, in the interview. Indeed, some of the centre-right who support the EU may have been made uncomfortable by it. François Fillon, Sarkozy’s former prime minister, said the comments “were not the central event of the campaign.”