Michel Barnier has told a French broadcaster the country must suspend all non-EU immigration for up to five years, in what is being seen as a tilt at the French presidency.
Barnier told public broadcaster France 2 that the EU’s external borders had become a “sieve”.
“I think we have to take the time for three or five years to suspend immigration,” he said.
Barnier said any suspension should exclude students and refugees, “who we need to treat with humanity and care”. He also called for EU members to take a “more rigorous” approach to their external borders.
The French politician claimed there were “links” between immigration and “terrorist networks that infiltrate migrational flows”.
Asked whether his comments would call into question his reputation as a moderate, Barnier said: “The problems of immigration are not moderate. I know, as the politician that I am, to see the problems how they are and how French people experience them and to find solutions.”
Barnier – who led Brexit negotiations on the EU’s behalf – is understood to have his eye on becoming the candidate for centre-right party The Republicans.
Most polls currently suggest that the 2022 contest will be a two-horse race between the incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, and the far-right Marine Le Pen.
The proposals put forward by Barnier would not affect free movement with other EU countries.