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By Ardee Napolitano
CALAIS, France (Reuters) - Eric Zemmour, the French far-right presidential challenger, on Wednesday said he would seize back control of France's borders from Europe, block European Union free trade negotiations and prevent any further enlargement of the bloc to the east.
Pitching his vision for France's relationship with the EU, Zemmour rubbished President Emmanuel Macron's quest for deeper European cooperation as a folly that put the needs of French citizens in the hands of an illegitimate Brussels elite.
"I want France to be in Europe, but I want France to come before Europe," Zemmour said in a speech delivered on a wind-swept point near the northern port of Calais, from where thousands of illegal migrants try each year to reach Britain.
That meant winning back control of France's frontiers, re-establishing the primacy of national law over European law and halting accession talks with states lying on the bloc's eastern flank, Zemmour said.
"With me the European flag will never fly without the French Tricolor," he said. Earlier this month, Macron's opponents reacted furiously to his decision to fly the EU flag alone under the Arc de Triomphe to mark the beginning of France's rotating presidency of the European Council.
He said France should remain in the EU, the world's largest trade bloc. But echoing arguments used by the 'Leave' campaign in Britain's 2016 Brexit campaign, he denounced the destructive interference of a disconnected Brussels elite in the daily lives of European citizens.
Macron's wish for a more sovereign, strategically autonomous Europe was fantasy, Zemmour said.
"Macron's Europe is a fictitious Europe," Zemmour continued. "Contrary to what he thinks, Europe is not a nation."
The writer and talkshow star has said France needs saving from a spiral of decline https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/french-far-right-commentator-zemmour-announces-presidential-run-2021-11-30 that has seen its identity eroded, in part due to what he sees as an increasing tendency for Muslim migrants to turn their backs on France's secular values.
He is polling fourth in the election race, behind Macron, Marine Le Pen, of the traditional far-right and conservative challenger Valerie Pecresse. However, analysts say it is too early to rule him out of a place in April's run-off vote.
Zemmour, who was convicted again this week for inciting hate, said migrants had brought violence, crime and misery to Calais, a favoured launchpad for clandestine crossings of the English Channel.
Calais had always been an outpost in France's defences against invaders, centuries ago against the British and Spanish and nowadays against Afghan, Pakistani and African migrants, he continued.
"Our commitment is that France will never come to resemble the abandonned Calais of today," Zemmour said.
(Reporting by Ardee Napolitano; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Toby Chopra)