Sarkozy Discusses EU And Immigration In Greece

Sarkozy discusses EU and immigration in Greece

June 7, 2008

French President Nicolas Sarkozy used a visit to Athens on Friday to highlight immigration issues, defend the EU's Lisbon Treaty, and boost bilateral defence cooperation with his ally Greece.

“This treaty is not perfect but it puts 10 years of institutional debate to rest,” Sarkozy said in an address to the Greek parliament at the start of a brief official trip.

But even when the treaty is ratified, Sarkozy noted, this will not end an ongoing “crisis” between the European Union and Europeans themselves.

“This will only come when we show to the Greeks, and the French, that Europe is there to protect them and not to worry them,” the French president said in a speech in which he hailed Franco-Greek ties to applause from Greek MPs.

“This is why immigration will be among (our) priorities.”

Sarkozy later said he supported a “European border guard system,” speaking alongside Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis at a news conference.

“We cannot let the countries at Europe's borders on their own guard the borders which, once breached, concern all the countries at the heart of Europe,” Sarkozy said.

“I am very interested by Greek suggestions such as a joint French and Greek system of coast guard patrol boats.”

The two leaders also announced in a joint statement that they had signed a “strategic security and defence partnership” for military cooperation which “will strengthen Europe's defence and the Atlantic alliance.”

Situated on the EU's southeastern gateway and with an extended coastline, Greece has been pushing the recently-expanded bloc for more financial assistance to deal with a tide of immigration in recent years.

Greek police in 2007 arrested around 112,000 clandestine immigrants, according to the interior ministry.

Sarkozy's visit to Greece — the first by a French head of state in more than 25 years — is one stop on a round of European capitals before France takes over the rotating European Union presidency on July 1.

The Lisbon Treaty has to be agreed by all 27 EU member states, with Ireland the only member putting it to a referendum, next week. A recent poll put the 'no' camp marginally in the lead in Ireland, a result which would throw the ratification process into disarray.

Greece's parliament is expected to ratify the treaty soon.

Sarkozy's address to the Greek parliament was a rare honour only accorded to three foreign presidents in the past: his predecessor Charles de Gaulle and US presidents Dwight D Eisenhower and George Bush, senior.

Sarkozy is popular in Greece as his maternal grandfather hailed from the northern port city of Salonika.

He will fly on to Beirut on Saturday for talks with Lebanese President Michel Sleimane and other Lebanese political leaders.