ATHENS – French Presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse, who’s challenging the incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, made a visit to Greece to visit a refugee detention center and back stronger border protection, as the New Democracy government was trying to keep out more arrivals.
Macron has visited Greece and aligned his country in a mutual defense pact after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made a $3.51 billion deal to buy three French Belharra warships and $2.5 billiion for 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets, 12used and six new and then upped it to 24.
That was in response to growing provocations from Turkey, which has also allowed human traffickers to keep sending more refugees and migrants to Greek islands, violating terms of an essentially-suspended 201 swap deal with the European.
Greece has also been accused of pushing back refugees and migrants across the Aegean toward Turkey and over the land border to keep them from reaching Greek islands or territory, which Mitsotakis denied was happening.
The French agreement also has a mutual defense binder in which either country would come to the other’s aid if attacked by a another, seen as protection for Greece against any Turkish belligerence.
Pecresse, the candidate for the conservative Republicans party is seen by many as the most significant challenger to the centrist Macron, expected to run for re-election in April even though he’s has not formally announced it.
“There is no Europe without borders, and the question of borders is absolutely key today to building European power,” Pecresse said, standing at the foot of the ancient Acropolis in Athens.
Pecresse is seeking to elevate her stature as a potential stateswoman by traveling abroad, and to establish her credentials as tough on migration as she tries to lure voters away from the influential French far right.
“It is not at all fortress Europe, but it is not a supermarket Europe either. When we have required entry points, that means there are doors. There are doors and you must go through the door, and for me, that is my European model,” she said.
NO OPEN DOORS
“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,” she added, lining up with Mitsotakis’ stance.
A former government minister and current president of the Paris region, Pecresse has more governing experience than other leading candidates and given the best chance to beat Macron although it’s early in the race.
Pecresse met Mitsotakis, and was to go to the eastern island of Samos to visit the detention camp that was opened late in 2021 as a closed facility to keep in refugees and migrans and replace an overcrowded facility.
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 using smugglers to reach Greek islands near the Turkish coast.
But the government has cracked down on the practice and the number of arrivals have plummeted. Greek authorities have come under intense criticism for carrying out what rights groups say are pushbacks — the illegal summary deportation of recent arrivals without allowing them to apply for asylum.
The government denies the practice, but does say it robustly patrols its land and sea borders, and denies entry to people seeking to cross the border illegally, as Turkey has not been penalized for allowing traffickers to send them.
Pecresse praised Greece’s tough line, noting the dramatic reduction in the number of arrivals. “What Greece has done in terms of borders is totally exemplary,” she said. “They have chosen to be both firm and human,” at odds with critics who said the policies are inhumane.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)