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France

Immigration minister launches nationwide debate on 'national identity'

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-11-02

Immigration Minister Eric Besson has kicked off a three-month countrywide debate on France's "national identity", a move polls say is backed by sixty percent of French voters.

AFP - Well over half of French voters back government plans for a vast public debate on France's "national identity," attacked by the opposition as pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment, a poll showed Sunday.
   
Sixty percent of the French, including 72 percent of right-wing voters and half of left-wingers, back the plan tabled by Immigration Minister Eric Besson and set to kick off this week, according to the CSA poll for Le Parisien.
   
Another 35 percent thought it a bad thing, while the rest had no opinion.
   
President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who made national identity a key campaign theme when he was running for the presidency in 2007 -- is also to take part in a debate on the subject in December.
   
Public meetings are to kick off Monday in some 450 government offices around the country, involving campaigners, students, parents and teachers, unions, business leaders and French and European lawmakers.
   
The debates will end with a congress early next year on the twin questions of "what it means to be French today" and "what immigration contributes to our national identity."
   
The Socialist opposition has accused the government of pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment to shore up support on the right, and warns it risks alienating France's large communities of immigrant descent.
   
But Besson, who is also minister for integration and national identity, says the debate aims to reassert republican values, not to stigmatise France's large immigrant communities, including from its former African colonies.
   
Le Parisien's poll asked respondents to choose from a list of symbols representing France's "identity".
   
Top came the French language -- cited as "important" or "very important" by 98 percent -- followed by the tricolour French flag with 88 percent and the Marseillaise national anthem by 77 percent.
   
But 72 percent also said that the custom of "welcoming immigrants" was an important part of French identity.
   
The national identity issue has reemerged as Sarkozy seeks to reassure right-wing voters following a storm over the sex tourist past of his culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, and a nepotism row surrounding his son Jean.
   
A senior Socialist deputy said the circumstances in which the debate was launched "shows that France is sick."
   
Alone on the left, Sarkozy's defeated rival for the presidency Segolene Royal -- who once asked supporters to sing the Marseillaise at her rallies -- argued France needs to "reconquer the symbols of our nation" from the far-right.
   
Meanwhile dissenting voices in Sarkozy's own camp have criticised the plans, including his own junior minister for youth and solidarity Martin Hirsch.
   
"France does not have an identity problem," said Hirsch, calling it a "100-percent political debate."

 

Date created : 2009-11-02

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