Well folks the results are in, and the French will soon be welcoming President Nicolas Sarkozy to the head of their country. I have followed the debate around these presidential elections with great interest and I’ve also been quite interested in the American responses to the candidates. I have seen several anti-immigrant bloggers hold up Sarkozy as a symbol of anti-immigrant strength and reason. Though I would never say that Sarkozy was a pro-immigrant leader, do these bloggers know that the first-generation son of hungarian immigrants supports a form of affirmative action for children of immigrants in France? Perhaps not.
I first became interested in French politics as a student of French in high school. Those interests came to fruition while I worked for one of the leading immigrant rights groups in the country, SOS Racisme, for over a year and a half. We fought hard against “les lois Sarkozy” a set of reforms to the immigration law that would considerably hurt the rights of immigrants and that would lead to a system of choosing which immigrants could come to France based primarily on wealth and education- clearly the antithesis of liberty, egality, and fraternity. We lost the fight, and those laws were ultimately enacted in 2006.
Though we were opposed to Sarkozy’s laws and his hate speeches against migrant youth and second generation citizens, we also understood that his position on immigration was nuanced. He was not simply xenophobic, he was classist. Many Americans who seek to raise Sarkozy up as a international leader fail to see the complexities of anti-immigrant sentiment in France.
The NY times recently called Sarkozy the most polarizing figure to enter the French presidency since World War II. Perhaps the better anaylsis is that France is more polarized than it has ever been since World War II. France, like the US, is in an incredibly vulnerable sistuation. They are at a critical turning point at which they must figure out how their country will adjust to a new wave of globalization, european unification, continued attacks on their international influence and demographic changes such as immigration. Sarkozy isn’t this anti-immigrant guru that America should turn to for insight into how WE should deal with immigrants. He is a politican seeking the presidency of a country in real crisis and he is using hate speech and passing hurtful laws against a portion of his own people in order to get there. That’s polarization the US doesn’t need.
Sarkozy primarily draws the support of working class and rural French, along with those voters over 60. His hard headed tactics, and forceful language make many French feel safe, powerful and united in a way that Segolene Royal and the Socialists were simply not able to do.
It is this point in particular that reminds me of the US. For many, Bush’s simple yet straightforward answers to our economy, to aggression, to faith and a whole host of issues reassured them in the elections that the US would be OK. Bush seemed to promise a stronger country and that was an important part of his winning strategy.
That promise has not come to fruition. Instead we have seen our rights trampled, cultures and countries destroyed, lies told, and unworkable immigration reforms supported. The electorate is finally waking up to see that agressive tactics, backroom deals and hate speech does not a strong democracy make.
Does Sarkozy’s presidency hold the same for France? Only time will tell if his conservative economic policies, strong arm police tactics, and his rejection of working class immigrants will actually serve his country any good.
The Migration Policy Institute has put together materials on the 2007 Presidential French election- If you are interested in learning more, check out the link below:
Immigration and the 2007 French Presidential Elections:
A New MPI Backgrounder
WASHINGTON — As French voters select between presidential candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal on May 6, immigration may be a decisive issue. In light of the upcoming election, the Migration Policy Institute has released a backgrounder on the latest developments in France’s immigration system and the two candidates’ immigration platforms.
Sarkozy, the former interior minister and candidate from the center-right UMP party, is known both for tough law-and-order policies restricting immigration and for promoting religious dialogue and funding for mosques in a country known for strict separation of church and state.
Royal, of the center-left Socialist Party, would be the first woman to be elected president of France. She has emphasized encouraging circular migration, including through a “multiple roundtrip, multi-year” visa, for people at all skill levels as well as a development-centered approach to migration.
The election is crucial to the future of French immigration policy as the two candidates have radically different platforms. The backgrounder, written by Hiroyuki Tanaka, shows:
- In 2004, approximately 4.9 million people in France, or 8.1 percent of the population, were foreign born.
- Between 1999 and 2005, over a million foreign-born people acquired French citizenship.
- About 1.5 million foreigners (including those in the European Economic Area) make up 5.3 percent of the civilian labor force, according to 2005 data.
- In 2005, approximately seven out of ten permanent migrants entered the country through France’s family migration system. More than 70 percent of these migrants were from Africa.
To learn more about current immigration statistics and each candidate’s stance on immigration, please read the backgrounder at: www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/France_Elections050307.pdf.