French presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse stressed the need for strong European borders on Friday, during a visit to Greece that will also see her visit a camp for asylum seekers on the Aegean island used by migrants to enter Europe from neighboring Turkey.
Pecres, the conservative Republican 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 although he has not officially announced it.
“There is no Europe without borders, and the question of borders is absolutely key today to building European power,” said Pecres, standing at the foot of the ancient Acropolis in Athens.
Pecresse is seeking to raise her profile as a would-be stateswoman by traveling abroad, proving that her credentials are tough on immigration as she tries to lure voters away from the influential French far-right.
“It is not the fortress of Europe at all, but it is not a supermarket in Europe either. When we ask for entry points, it means that there are doors. At the beginning of her two-day visit, she said, “there are doors and you have to go through the door, and for me, that is typical.” European”.
“It is a model 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, Becresse has more experience in governing than the other leading candidates. Polls at this point suggest that if anyone can fire Macron, she can. However, the race is unpredictable and many voters are still hesitant three months before the election.
Opinion 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, both of whom have made anti-immigration rhetoric central to their strategies.
Macron’s government has also sought to curb immigration, calling for stricter EU rules and stepping up efforts against migrant smuggling.
Purchasing power and the epidemic are other major concerns of voters.
On Friday, Pekris met centre-right Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and was due to head to the eastern island of Samos on Saturday, where she will visit a camp for asylum seekers. The camp opened late last year to replace a massively overcrowded facility on the island where thousands lived in misery, mostly in the shanty town that sprang 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, most of whom use smugglers to reach the Greek islands near the Turkish coast.
But the government cracked down on the practice and the number of arrivals fell. Greek authorities have come under fire for carrying out what rights groups have called pushbacks – the illegal, summary deportation of new arrivals without allowing them to apply for asylum. The government denies the practice, but says it vigorously monitors its land and sea borders, denying entry to people who seek to cross the border illegally.
The French presidential candidate praised Greece’s asylum policy, noting the dramatic drop in arrivals.
“What Greece has done with regard to the border is quite exemplary,” she said. “They chose to be resolute and human.”