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August 16, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Olde Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy continues to find himself making headlines for controversial moves, which have incited accusations of racism worldwide.

While the president has always proclaimed a tough stance on immigration, these moves have picked up steam. Last year, Sarkozy called for the Muslim burqa to be banned in public spaces. The policy has since passed by an overwhelming majority in the French National Assembly, and is now being debated in the French Senate, where it is also expected to pass.

In his most recent outburst, Sarkozy linked crime to immigration in a speech in Grenoble. This followed the death of a man of Arab origin that sparked riots and a number of death threats aimed at Grenoble police. Sarkozy says France is “suffering from 50 years of lax immigration regulation which has led to a failure of integration”. In his speech he outlined a number of measures he intends to introduce, aimed at reducing
crimes among immigrant populations.

These proposals include the reviewing of foreign-born underage offenders before they become citizens at 18, as well as the more widely reported plan to strip citizenship from immigrants who threaten the lives of police. He justified the proposals, announcing “French nationality has to be earned. You have to prove you’re worthy of it. When you shoot at police officers, you no longer have the right to call yourself French.”

Sarkozy’s measures have been slammed by critics from both ends of the political spectrum as being unworkable. Despite this, a recent opinion poll illustrated that 70 to 80 per cent of French voters actually support the measures the president has put forward. In a statement that reflects the results of the poll, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has been quick to dismiss these critics, claiming: “As usual Sarkozyism is out of step with the elites but in step with society.”

Hortefeux says, “When we must adapt to or confront new difficulties, we don’t hesitate to do so. We’re waging a war against insecurity. We’re on the side of the victims and we have but a sole enemy—the crooks.” Hortefeux has outlined that Sarkozy’s proposed measures would be included in bills to be debated in the French National Assembly in September.

Hortefeux has also indicated that the stripping of citizenship could be applied more broadly than in the instance announced by Sarkozy in his Grenoble speech. The Interior Minister has said these punitive measures could be applied in the instances of “female excision, human trafficking or serious acts of delinquency”.

A little over a week before his speech in Grenoble, Sarkozy had announced policies to eradicate illegal Roma
(gypsy) camps in France, saying they are “sources of trafficking, exploitation and prostitution”. His attack on the Roma people was again reactionary, following the fatal shooting of a young gypsy woman who failed to stop at a checkpoint and was subsequently shot dead, sparking riots.

The Roma in question are actually French gypsies, who have lived in the country for centuries. There are
hundreds of thousands of Roma who live in long-established French communities. Despite this, Sarkozy
directed his attack at the gypsies, who have migrated predominantly from Romania and Bulgaria in recent years. These immigrants have the right to enter France without a visa, but must attain work or residency permits in order to remain in the country for long periods of time.

300 illegal gypsy camps are to be “systematically evacuated” over the next three months, and police have since initiated this campaign. The first camp dismantled saw 100 people from the central city of Saint-Etienne dispersed, where they had been living in makeshift shelters and tents since May.

While there are undoubtedly Europe-wide issues concerning immigration policies, analysts believe Sarkozy’s actions to be motivated by an approval rating that is sliding. It has been suggested Sarkozy is implementing anti-immigration policies in order to purloin votes from the extreme-right National Front Party. This move is likely to also gain him revitalised support from the majority of heavily conservative French voters.

John Lichfield, a commentator from The Independent, says Sarkozy is continuing to make connections between crime and both legal and illegal immigrants. He alleges that these connections are “at best wilful, and at worst dishonest”.

In a recent statement, the French Socialist Party has also accused Sarkozy of “trying to distract the public’s
attention by using that old standby—provocation”.

Regardless of these criticisms, with such a high percentage of support for his recent policies, Sarkozy’s
motivations, nefarious as they may be, are likely to secure the president’s popularity. The only real chance of
impedance of these controversial policies lies with the Council of State, France’s highest administrative body,
who have indicated concerns of the unconstitutionality of Sarkozy’s policies.

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