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French PM weighs in on Roma 'integration'

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-03

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament on Tuesday that Roma could be integrated into society as long as they respected the law, publicly challenging statements by his interior minister that have divided the Socialist-led government.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault publicly disagreed on Tuesday with divisive statements made by Interior Minister Manuel Valls last week that Roma immigrants could not be assimilated into French society.

“Solutions can be found, as long as the people in question respect the Republic’s laws,” Ayrault, the second-highest ranking leader in the country after President François Hollande, said in a routine speech at the National Assembly in Paris.

“Integration is possible when the laws of the Republic are respected. The duty of our leaders is to offer real solutions, to move the country forward, to not pit one group of people against another, to solve our problems,” Ayrault reprimanded.

A policy of expelling Roma, also know as gypsies, from France has become a hot-button issue that has divided the country’s Socialist-led government.

Valls, who as Interior Minister is in charge of monitoring and managing immigration, defended his ramp-up of expulsions this year, claiming only a minority of Roma people wanted or could be integrated into society.

His words and tone were reminiscent of former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, and sparked an outcry among members of Hollande’s government.

The most vocal opponent, Housing Minister Cécile Duflot, warned Valls against trampling on France’s “Republican principles”. Valls retorted by calling her statements on the subject “unbearable.”

The feud has since expanded, with some Socialist leaders criticising Valls and others rallying in his defence. On Tuesday, Ayrault attempted to extinguish the fire.

“I am calling on everyone to remain composed. Composure means holding up the dignity of our jobs, but it is also showing respect to all citizens,” he concluded, after asking politicians to stop “exacerbating” the controversy.

While the Roma question has sparked a potentially-damaging feud within the government five months before municipal elections, many French seem to agree with Valls.

A study by French polling firm BVA over the weekend revealed that only 22% of voters disagreed with Valls and were concerned he was “stigmatizing a portion of the population.”

Date created : 2013-10-02

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