Monday, March 12, 2012

Control illegal immigrants or I'll pull France out of visa free zone, says Sarkozy

A withdrawal by France would of course destroy the Schengen arrangements so this will put huge pressure on the Brussels bureaucrats if Sarkozy is re-elected

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

Mr 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, Mr 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.

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

Mr 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.

Mr 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.

Mr 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.

Mr Sarkozy a week ago picked up on a debate about halal meat launched by Marine 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 Ms Le Pen, who polls put in third place in the presidential race.

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

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

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

Mr Hollande, who has enjoyed a clear lead for five months, would romp home in the second round with 56 percent, well ahead of Mr 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 Mr Sarkozy had been in power, "I only hear bad things about this man who only does good".

The Villepinte rally came just days after the 56-year-old Sarkozy said he would quit politics for good if not re-elected.


The GFC refugees heading for Australia

Representatives of Australia's Portuguese, Spanish, Greek and Italian communities told The Sun-Herald that in recent months they have fielded a rush of inquiries about job openings and migration to Australia.

"There is an increasing interest from our nationals in Portugal writing to us, inquiring about jobs," Antonio Gaivao, first secretary of the Portuguese embassy in Canberra, said.

Many of the Portuguese citizens who emailed the embassy were young and well educated, he said. Some were doctors and lawyers.

Spanish, Greek and Italian chamber of commerce officials echoed the sentiment, saying rising numbers of lawyers, doctors, architects and other skilled professionals had contacted them about jobs.

"I would say 95 per cent of the CVs we get are from qualified professionals. They have qualifications be it in engineering, architecture, law, whatever it may be," said Lillian Ajuria, an immigration lawyer and spokeswoman for the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Australia.

The Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne last year received "three to four thousand emails" from Greek citizens looking to move to Australia, the group's president, Bill Papastergiadis, said.

Many held university degrees and were highly skilled but had been battered by Greece's austerity program, Nick Mylonas, president of the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.

Last month, however, the federal government rejected a call by the Greek community to provide a special working visa for Greeks caught in their country's worsening financial crisis.

Ms Ajuria said Spanish citizens have it even tougher than Italians, as Spain is not part of the working holiday program with Australia. Italian nationals under the age of 31 can at least get a working holiday visa and work in Australia for six months without being sponsored, she said.

Australia's working visa program is open to Irish citizens but not Portuguese; Italians but not Spanish; Cypriots but not Greeks.

Ms Ajuria said working visas would open doors for young Europeans but would also help employers who would be able to "put [the visitors] on the job, test them for three or six months and then decide whether they are worthy of being sponsored".

Of the many Europeans turning to Australia since the financial crash, it has mostly been the Irish who have scored visas. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship counted a 68 per cent increase in Irish visa grants for last financial year over the previous one. However, there has been no significant rise in visa grants to Ireland's neighbouring "debt crisis" countries.

Given the high youth unemployment rates in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, embassy officials believe the situation may soon change.

If these new batches of Europeans were granted visas, they would be unrecognisable from the migrants who arrived in Australia half a century ago, said Tim Harcourt, a trade and migration expert and fellow at the University of NSW's school of economics.

The Greeks and Italians who emigrated after World War II were mainly blue-collar workers who drove taxis, ran shops and worked on building sites, Mr Harcourt said. Yet, he said, a disproportionate number of these migrants became entrepreneurs and exporters. He believes that if the latest inquiries turn into visas, then Australia will benefit handsomely.

"According to Sensis data, 50 per cent of Australian exporters were born overseas," Mr Harcourt said. "The inquiries … are like a canary in a coalmine. If successful, these economic refugees could well be among the ranks of future Australian exporters."


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