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11 May, 2021 15:09

Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier suggests FIVE-YEAR HALT to immigration into Europe… but not for refugees

Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier suggests FIVE-YEAR HALT to immigration into Europe… but not for refugees

The EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator and potential French presidential candidate Michel Barnier has suggested a “halt” on immigration into the bloc for up to five years, to reassess the Schengen deal and strengthen borders.

Barnier floated the idea when he appeared on France 2’s Telematin program on Tuesday.

“I think we have to take the time for three or five years to suspend immigration,” he said, urging the bloc to reinforce its external borders and review immigration policies.

I’m not talking about students or refugees, who we need to treat with humanity and care, but we need to examine all the procedures, we have to discuss Schengen with our neighbors, we have to apply controls on borders, we need to be more rigorous.

In its current state, the European migration system is not functioning effectively Barnier argued. He also admitted that “links” between mass migration and “terrorist networks that infiltrate migration flows” do exist. Asked by the host whether his remarks signal a drift from his moderate and centrist political views, Barnier denied the changes.

“The problems of immigration are not moderate. I know, as the politician that I am, how to see the problems as they are and French people experience them and to find solutions,” he stressed.

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The EU has struggled in recent years to deal with the constant flow of illegal migrants who cross the Mediterranean in boats, often in a bid to escape the warzones and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The influx peaked back in 2015 and, in early 2019, the European Commission declared that the migrant crisis had ended.

But the flow of illegal migrants seeking to reach the EU is far from over. Last year, between January and November, some 114,000 people illegally crossed into the EU, according to official European Commission statistics. That number was just 10% lower than the same period in 2019, despite the global coronavirus pandemic having brought normal international travel to an abrupt halt.

And the migrant flow appears to have accelerated in recent weeks. Last weekend alone, some 2,100 people arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a long-time illegal migration hotspot.

The bold rhetoric from Barnier comes as he makes a return to domestic French politics after the Brexit saga, during which he was the EU’s chief negotiator. He has been a vocal critic of Brexit, describing it as “a lose-lose situation” for all the parties involved. 

Earlier this year, Barnier set up a working group of lawmakers from his Les Republicans party called Patriot and European, in apparent preparation for a 2022 French presidential election bid. So far, however, he has abstained from confirming he will challenge Emmanuel Macron next April, saying only that he “will be an actor in this presidential debate”.

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