PARIS: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the end of Europe's visa-free Schengen area and the creation of a Franco-German economic bloc at the heart of the eurozone, in an opinion piece published Thursday.
As France prepares to vote in EU-wide elections on Sunday, Sarkozy took aim at the Schengen agreement which has made the free movement of people and goods possible in 26 European countries.
He also called for half of Brussels' powers to be returned to national governments.
His warning came amid the rising popularity of right-wing parties in the bloc, which are campaigning on an anti-immigration plank at a time of economic hardship.
"Schengen I must be immediately suspended and be replaced by a Schengen II of which member countries can only be a part if they previously agree to the same immigration policy," Sarkozy said, adding that Europe's migration policy has failed.
"Europe is not meant to organise social and migratory dumping, almost systematically at the expense of France," he warned in the piece, published by French magazine Le Point and Germany's Die Welt newspaper.
Non-European Union countries like Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are part of the Schengen area, but EU members Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania are not.
Critics argue free movement within the bloc has made it possible for illegal migrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe to settle in affluent EU countries after slipping in through the Schengen area's more porous outlying borders. Many come in by sea to Italy, Greece and other coastal countries.
Sarkozy said that without a quick fix, France's social fabric could disintegrate in the coming years.
Sarkozy's UMP party is widely tipped to be beaten in the European Parliament polls by the far-right anti-immigration and eurosceptic National Front party of Marine Le Pen.
The former French leader warned that the rising tide of anti-EU sentiment could destabilise the continent.
The European Union protects its citizens from the "ideological veering off course of governments and majority parties," Sarkozy said.
"If the European Union broke up centuries-old hatred and conflicts of interest would resurface more violently."
"We must correct its excesses but as a project it must be preserved."
He also said a "large, coherent and stable" Franco-German economic bloc at the heart of the eurozone would allow France "to better defend (its) interests in the face of German competition by doing away with fiscal and social disadvantages".
This "would allow us to take over the leadership of the 18 countries that make up our monetary union".
Sarkozy's former prime minister Francois Fillon, a candidate for France's presidential election in 2017, distanced himself from Sarkozy's piece.
"Before talking of suspending Schengen let us begin by examining what French citizens want with regard to immigration policy," he said.
National Front leader Le Pen meanwhile dismissed his remarks on tightening immigration as a "comedy of repetition."
"For years now he has been making the same promises to the French people," she said.
"He never did anything and let Europe become a sieve with larger holes," she said. "Mr Sarkozy lies all the time."
France's Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Desir said Sarkozy's piece was a severe assessment of the policies pursued Europe's right wing parties over the past decade, including those of the former president himself.