French President Nicolas Sarkozy, chasing far-right voters in a troubled re-election bid, will press EU partners Thursday to make it easier to recall border guards in Europe's visa-free travel area.

Sarkozy's interior minister will present to EU counterparts a German-backed proposal that would allow states to reintroduce border controls for 30 days as a last resort if another Schengen nation fails to police its external frontiers.

After coming second to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in Sunday's first round, Sarkozy told a campaign rally on Monday that the French "no longer want a sieve-like Europe" and that "borders are meant to be protected."

"If Europe cannot defend its borders, France will," he told flag-waving supporters. "This Europe that cannot control migration flows is finished."
Behind Hollande in opinion polls ahead of the runoff, Sarkozy began chasing the far-right vote after anti-immigrant National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen grabbed third place with 18 percent of votes in the first round.

Schengen reform was supposed to be debated weeks after France's May 6 final vote but Paris intends to open the debate when interior ministers meet in Luxembourg even though it is not on the official agenda.

Sarkozy's tough talk on immigration and the FN's high score has irked some EU partners already worried about the rise of far-right movements all around Europe.

"The timing of the debate stinks to high heaven," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, a socialist, told German mews weekly Der Spiegel. "It's no accident that this (Franco-German) letter was made public at the height of the French presidential election campaign," he said.
"The letter appeals to far-right ideology. It serves the goal of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to woo votes from the far-right Front National."
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, refused to comment directly on the French election but its president Jose Manuel Barroso and other commissioners have warned against the allure of populism in the past.

Barroso and others "have often urged European leaders to not cede to the temptation of populist speeches and continue to work with us to push for a Europe of peace and growth," said Olivier Bailly, a Barroso spokesman.

France, Germany and others have pressed for changes to the Schengen treaty since last year, when the Arab Spring raised fears of an exodus of migrants who would flood into Italy or Greece and travel freely across the EU.

At the moment, nations can restore border controls in the 26-nation Schengen area in response to terror threats or to step up security for sporting events like when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006.

The European Commission has proposed changes to Schengen that would allow states to shut borders for five days and then ask permission to keep them closed longer in case of migratory pressure.

The French-German proposal also suggests that a country could be temporarily kicked out of Schengen if it fails to control its border with non-EU nations.

The intended target is Greece, which has been under peer pressure to step up vigilance at its porous border with Turkey, considered one of the main entry points for illegal migrants into the EU.

The interior ministers will discuss efforts to convince Turkey to sign an agreement to take back migrants in return for easier access to EU visas for its own citizens.