A candidate to head France's discrimination watchdog is "the wrong type of person" because of his Algerian roots and left-wing views, according to Gérard Longuet, a senior member of France's right-wing ruling UMP party.
A French politician of Algerian origin “is the wrong type of person” to head the country’s top anti-discrimination body, a senior member of the ruling UMP party said Wednesday, claiming it would be better to have someone “of French stock”.
Longuet, who is the UMP leader in the French Senate, said in the interview he preferred the HALDE's outgoing president, former Renault boss Bernard Schweitzer.
“Schweitzer comes from the old Protestant bourgeoisie,” said Longuet. “He’s perfect.”
Justifying his stance against Boutih, a Socialist and former head of anti-racism body SOS Racisme, Longuet said: “It would be better that the position be held by someone of traditional French stock who would feel responsible for welcoming all our [diverse] French compatriots.
“If you put someone in this position who is symbolically ‘other’, there is a risk of getting it wrong.”
Unsurprisingly, and with regional elections beginning on Sunday, the opposition Socialist Party has taken extreme umbrage.
The party's deputy leader Harlem Désir said he was “scandalised” and called on the UMP to “condemn Longuet’s comments and make a public apology to Boutih”.
“This is much more than a simple blunder,” he added. “This is the expression of a racial philosophy which is totally at odds with modern France, a nation built on republican principles of equality between all citizens regardless of their origins.”
Faouzi Lamdaoui, a member of the Socialist Party's national council, demanded that French President Nicolas Sarkozy “take all measures to stop this kind of casual racism, which seems to have become the favourite sport of the French right-wing”.
Later on Wednesday evening Longuet released a statement saying he was sorry to have “upset Malek Boutih”, whom he recognised as a “man of great personal qualities”.
He added: “I simply wanted to express the fact that the position [of the head of HALDE] should be held by a person who has a lower political profile and who can recognise all our compatriots in all their diversity.
“Being a militant socialist is not an obstacle to that, but it does not automatically give [the candidate] the right to hold a position of such national importance, be it at the HALDE or elsewhere.”
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