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Too many immigrants in France, says ex-PM Fillon

Photo: AFP

Eyeing his conservative UMP party's nomination for the 2017 presidential election, former prime minister François Fillon said Thursday that France needs to "reduce the number of immigrants" it allows into the country.


France’s former prime minister François Fillon said Thursday that there were too many immigrants in the country, recalling a similar pronouncement by ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy during last year’s presidential election campaign.

“France is currently unable to welcome, in decent conditions, all those who want to come and live here,” Fillon said. “We must therefore reduce the number of immigrants.”

Asked if there were already too many immigrants in the country in an interview with France 2 television, Fillon replied simply, “Yes.”

Fillon, who served as prime minister between 2007 and 2012 and hopes to be the right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party’s presidential candidate in 2017, said the country should be inspired by Canada’s immigration regulations. 

If France were to emulate the Canadian model, he said, “Each year parliament would vote on the number of immigrants that we could allow into the country, the jobs we need to prioritise and the regions of the world for which we want to establish quotas."

According to the latest figures by France's national statistics agency, INSEE, the interior ministry awarded 194,000 permanent residency cards to foreigners in 2010.

Fillon, 59, said that the rate of legal immigration was “too elevated” as France struggles with unemployment, recession, high public debt and forging a sense of “national cohesion”.

According to INSEE, rates of immigration in France have been stable over the past 10 years. In a 2012 report, the agency said that France’s roughly 3.8 million immigrants made up 5.8% of the population.

In 2003, immigrants represented 5.2% of the country’s total population.

Pandering to the far-right

The former prime minister’s words were remarkably similar to those stated by Sarkozy in March 2012 as he sought re-election.

At the time, Sarkozy was blasted for pandering to far-right voters as his chances of retaining the presidency steadily dwindled. The strategy did not pay off, with Sarkozy losing the election while far-right leader Marine Le Pen garnered record-high support.

Blaming economic woes on immigration has long been a hallmark of the far-right National Front. A campaign slogan for the party in the 1980s was “3 million unemployed … means 3 million immigrants too many”.

While his statement on immigration harked back to Sarkozy's campaign, Fillon has tried to distance himself from the former president, who has allowed rumours to circulate that he is eyeing a comeback and will also seek the UMP nomination in 2017.

“I believe that I must now seek my own path,” Fillon told France 2.

“Nicolas Sarkozy likes competition," Fillon said of a possible primary ahead of the UMP nomination. "There will be a confrontation of ideas, an open confrontation.”


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