France should suspend all immigration from outside the EU for up to five years and push the bloc to toughen its external borders, Michel Barnier has said.
The EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator, who is thought to be considering a tilt at the French presidency, said the European Union’s external frontier had become a “sieve”.
“I think we have to take the time for three or five years to suspend immigration,” he told public broadcaster France 2.
Mr Barnier said any suspension should exclude students and refugees, “who we need to treat with humanity and care”.
He called for a discussion with other EU member states about making the bloc’s external border “more rigorous”.
And the French politician claimed there were “links” between immigration and “terrorist networks that infiltrate migrational flows”.
Asked whether his comments would call into question his reputation as a moderate Gaullist, Mr Barnier said: “The problems of immigration are not moderate. I know, as the politician that I am, to see the problems how they are and how French people experience them and to find solutions.”
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Mr Barnier is understood to have his eye on becoming the candidate for centre-right party The Republicans.
However, most polls currently suggest that the 2022 contest will be a two-horse race between the incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, and the far-right Marine Le Pen.
Immigration from outside the EU is a national competence for member states, and a suspension would be within the gift of the French government, although toughening the EU’s external Schengen border would require the cooperation of other EU member states.
Mr Barnier pointed to planned budget increases for the EU's border guard force, Frontex, and moves to deploy 10,000 new uniformed guards.
The proposals put forward by Mr Barnier would not affect free movement with other EU countries.