Francois Fillon, member of Les Republicains political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right, presents his New Year wishes at a news conference at his campaign headquarters in Paris, France, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer(reuters_tickers)
PARIS (Reuters) - France needs immigration quotas, presidential election frontrunner Francois Fillon said on Wednesday ahead of a visit to the south-east border town of Menton.
Immigration and security are top issues in the campaign for the presidential elections starting in April, with the leader of the far-right, anti-immigration National Front, Marine Le Pen, saying France must exit the EU's border-free area.
"I want France to be able to decide every year the number of people it can accept on its territory," Fillon told RMC radio and BFM TV ahead of his trip to south-east France. He will also hold a rally in Nice, where 86 people where killed in July in a truck attack claimed by Islamic State.
Fillon, who is seen beating Le Pen if they meet in a runoff vote in May in the election, will also urge the European Union to tighten its asylum and immigration policy to counter threats from Islamist militants.
He also wants to deny social benefits to immigrants who have legally resided in France for less than two years.
The former prime minister will however not back an exit from the EU's Schengen border-free area, an aide said on Tuesday.
Fillon's immigration plans, along with his embrace of free market economic policies, have drawn criticism from rivals on the left who say they will deepen divisions in French society.
Fillon, whose ratings have been dipping slightly, partly because of unpopular plans to overhaul social security, on which he has rowed back, said: "We still have some adjustments to do, I'll admit that." On social security in particular he added: "We haven't been good, we were not clear."
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Sophie Louet; Editing by Hugh Lawson)