Calais camp: Sarkozy says UK must take responsibility

Former French president and hopeful candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party in 2017 presidential election Nicolas Sarkozy (C) flanked by Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart (L) and LR party member Francois Baroin, gestures as he speaks in Calais' town hall, northern France, on 21 September 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Critics accused Mr Sarkozy of ceding too much political ground to the far-right

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has insisted that Britain must take responsibility for the thousands of migrants in the "Jungle" camp at Calais.

Meeting local residents, he vowed to "fix the problem" of the camp by the end of 2017 if his campaign to win back the presidency next year is successful.

Mr Sarkozy is among seven candidates for the Republican nomination.

But his campaign's focus on immigration has been dogged by controversy.

Mr Sarkozy has taken a hard line in a bid to secure right-wing support, say commentators.

But he has been mocked for insisting in a speech on Monday that immigrants to France should accept that "once you are French your ancestors are the Gauls".

Dreams and desperation in the Calais camp

Profile: Nicolas Sarkozy

On a visit to Calais on Wednesday, Mr Sarkozy heard from residents how their lives had been ruined by the Jungle camp, which is now home to between 7,000 and 10,000 migrants and refugees.

He ridiculed a plan outlined by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to disperse the camp's population to migrant reception centres around France.

"If the Cazeneuve plan is implemented, the migrants will be back in Calais within six months," he said.

He also echoed comments he made a year ago, when he was accused of taking the tone of France's migration debate "to the sewer" by likening migrants to a burst water pipe.

"When you've made a mess in one room, do you solve the problem by moving it to another? No, you've made it worse," he said on Wednesday.

French news website Le Monde said he was following a "risky" strategy with the remarks.

Mr Sarkozy said Britain must renegotiate the Le Touquet agreement that allows the UK to place its border controls on French soil.

He defended his own role in the Anglo-French deal, signed in 2003 when he was interior minister.

Official campaigning for the centre-right Republicans party presidential nomination will end in November, when supporters will choose who they want to take on the ruling Socialist party candidate and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Struggle in the centre-right - Lucy Williamson, BBC News, Paris

At the head of the battle for the Republican nomination are two faces very familiar to France: former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has taken a harder line on issues such as immigration and the role of Islam; and former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who has called for a more liberal approach based on the rule of law.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Alain Juppe (L) is Mr Sarkozy's main rival for the centre-right nomination

Ranged alongside them are five other candidates, including another former prime minister, Francois Fillon, and MP Bruno Le Maire.

The debate has so far focused on immigration, the economy, and how best to combat terrorism, with Mr Sarkozy and others calling for preventative detention for those seen as potential threats to the state.

Opinion polls suggest that the second round of this presidential election could well be a run-off between the Republicans and the far-right National Front (FN).

Mr Sarkozy attracted political criticism and social media mockery when on Monday he insisted immigrants granted French citizenship should accept "Your ancestors are the Gauls" - an old-school maxim associated with France's imperial past.

"We are not all the same, we need to respect diversity," his rival Alain Juppe told France Info radio, while Socialist Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told iTele "there are also Romans, Normans, Celts, Nicois, Corsicans, Arabs, Italians, Spanish. That's France."

Some commentators pointed out that the Gaulish ancestor claim was not based on historical fact but invented to unify the nation under Napoleon III in the 19th Century.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption The Gaullist myth dating back to the time of Napoleon III has been reprised by the Republicans and Sarkozy, noted one commentator

Some commentators depicted Sarkozy as Asterix - the cartoon Gaul resisting Roman domination:

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption "Sarkozix, the chief of the village" quipped L'Expresso

Meanwhile, others accused Mr Sarkozy of ceding key political ground to the far right.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption "Even if Le Pen doesn't make the run-off she's already won," commented Taniel on Twitter.

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