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'The idea of removing people's nationality is unbearable'

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is threatening to strip people who break the law of their nationality. French political analyst Jean-Philippe Roy tells France 24 why the idea blurs the political lines between Sarkozy's party and the far right.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a startling policy proposal on Friday:  strip foreign-born French citizens of their nationality if they endanger the welfare of someone who represents the authority of the state. His statement was made during a visit to the south-eastern city of Grenoble, where days earlier local police had been the target of gunshots.

"French nationality should be taken away from any person of foreign origin who deliberately threatens the life of a policeman, a gendarme or any other person who represents the authority of the state,” Sarkozy said. “French nationality is a privilege one should be worthy of.”

For Jean-Philippe Roy, a political science lecturer at the University of Tours in central France, these statements reflects the state of anxiety that has gripped Sarkozy’s government.

FRANCE 24: How would you describe the speech of Nicolas Sarkozy in Grenoble, including his proposal to strip French nationality?

Jean-Philippe Roy: I'm very surprised by this announcement. The boundary that existed between the far right and a traditional right has been considerably blurred. The idea of removing people's nationality is unbearable. With this proposal, Nicolas Sarkozy has crossed the point of no return. This is a very dangerous step. Imagine a person commits a heinous crime - killing 30 people, for example. We can take away his liberty, but not his nationality. It is inalienable.

F24: What exactly has changed from his previous speeches on security?

JP. R.: With his speech on Roma people and gypsies, plus the proposal to remove foreign nationality, Nicolas Sarkozy is not only speaking about security, but about foreigners and immigration. This is where the shift is. On security issues, almost everyone can concur. Urban insecurity is a real problem and there was a combination of events in Saint-Aignan  [where rioting occurred] and Grenoble, which in a way allowed him to seize this opportunity. But we are in new territory.

F24: In your opinion, will this proposal provoke reactions?

JP. R: Most people are on holiday, so [the statement] will have little impact. But constitutionally, it is totally impossible to strip someone’s nationality on such grounds, so it’s a provocation. This shows that the government is concerned, politicians are anxious, not composed.

F24: Is it an admission of failure by Nicolas Sarkozy on his security policies?

JP. R.: It is always difficult for politicians to admit they have failed. More than an admission of failure, this is an admission of powerlessness. It seems that everything escapes his grasp.

F24: Would the ruling UMP party support the president on this policy?

JP.R.: I am not sure they would. If a bill was presented, it would inevitably be referred to the Constitutional Council [France’s highest constitutional authority]. Jean-Louis Debré, who chairs the council, and who is a man of influence within the majority, would never accept such a proposal. Others, such as budget minister Francois Baroin, or politician Claude Goasguen, would not support it. They would be loyal to the government by keeping quiet, but they would not support such a text.

F24: Is the hardline security discourse part of the president’s electoral strategy?

JP.R.: At the end of the regional elections in March, Nicolas Sarkozy began campaigning for the 2012 presidential elections. His target voters, those who can help him win, are the old and what is left of the working class. These groups are extremely attentive to the subject of security, so now he is revisiting his favourite issue.

As in 2002, Nicolas Sarkozy is looking to present himself as an attractive choice to a segment of those who vote for the far right. He knows that Marine Le Pen, who is media savvy, will be a candidate in 2012 for the far right Front National party, so he has to be careful.

But at the same time, Nicolas Sarkozy does not seem to be acting within a cohesive political strategy. He is acting in haste, in anger. Therefore, his strategy has become incomprehensible and blurs what used to be at the heart of his approach. The UMP party is not the Front National.

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