French presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse stressed the need to strengthen Europe’s borders on Friday, during a visit to Greece in which she will also visit a camp for asylum seekers on an Aegean island used by migrants to enter Europe from neighboring Turkey.
Pecresse, the conservative GOP presidential candidate, is seen by many as the most important challenger to centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to run for re-election in April even though he has not formally announced it.
“There is no Europe without borders, and the issue of borders is absolutely key today to build European power,” said Pecresse, standing at the foot of the ancient Acropolis in Athens.
Pecresse is seeking to raise her stature as a would-be statesman by traveling abroad and establishing her credentials as a tough on immigration as she tries to steer voters away from France’s influential far-right.
“It is not a fortress Europe at all, but it is not a supermarket Europe either. When we have required entry points, that means there are doors. There are doors and you have to go through the door, and for me, that is my European model,” he said at the start of his two-day visit.
“It is a model that when we want to enter someone’s house we knock on the door and ask for permission to enter. It is not a model where everything is open to everyone.”
A former government minister and current president of the Paris region, Pecresse has more government experience than other leading candidates. Polls at this stage suggest that if anyone can unseat Macron, she could. However, the race is unpredictable and many voters remain undecided three months before the election.
Polls suggest that up to a third of voters could choose one of two far-right candidates in the first round of voting on April 10: Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, who have made anti-immigrant rhetoric the center of their votes. strategies.
The Macron government has also tried to limit immigration, demanding stricter EU rules and stepping up efforts against migrant smuggling.
Purchasing power and the pandemic are other top concerns for voters.
Pecresse met Greece’s center-right Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday and will travel to the eastern island of Samos on Saturday to visit a camp for asylum seekers. The camp opened late last year to replace a dramatically overcrowded facility on the island where thousands of people lived in squalor, most in a shantytown that had grown up around the official camp.
Greece has been one of the main entry points into the European Union for people fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, with most turning to smugglers to reach Greek islands off the Turkish coast. .
But the government has cracked down on the practice and the number of arrivals has plummeted. Greek authorities have come under intense criticism for carrying out what human rights groups call refoulement: the illegal summary deportation of new arrivals without allowing them to apply for asylum. The government denies the practice, but says it vigorously patrols its land and sea borders and denies entry to people seeking to cross the border illegally.
The French presidential candidate praised Greece’s asylum policy and pointed to the drastic reduction in the number of arrivals.
“What Greece has done in terms of borders is totally exemplary,” he said. “They have chosen to be firm and human.”