Posted on December 29, 2005

Sarkozy Call to Help Minorities

Alasdair Sandford, BBC News, Dec. 29, 2005

Positive discrimination is the only way to guarantee equal opportunities for all people in France, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has said.

Mr Sarkozy says he wants the law to ensure equal opportunities in practice — without introducing ethnic quotas.

High unemployment and discrimination against young black and Arab people have been blamed for a wave of rioting in several French cities in late 2005.

President Jacques Chirac opposes the principle of positive discrimination.

For him and for Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, such policies only increase the differences between communities and are against the traditional French republican model.

The government wants more use of anonymous CVs.

One scheme in Bordeaux showed that job seekers tended to get more interviews when employers could not see their name or address.

But for Interior Minister Sarkozy, voluntary measures are not enough.

He wants the law to impose what he calls French-style positive discrimination — not to introduce ethnic quotas, he says, but to ensure equal opportunity in practice.

Not for the first time, the outspoken interior minister is not afraid to swim against the official tide.

He has praised schemes such as that run by Sciences Po, the prestigious school of political science in Paris, which reserves some places for students from deprived areas.

And he has instructed another higher education institution to set up what he calls a “positive discrimination laboratory”.

Many young people in deprived areas complain that their CVs are barely looked at because of their background.

One study revealed that people with north African names were five times less likely to get job interviews than those with traditional French names.

France’s interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has discovered that calling people louts and rabble and threatening to “clean them off the streets” has won him few friends in celebrity circles.

Mr Sarkozy, whose injudicious use of language was partly blamed for exacerbating the recent urban riots, is now being abandoned by his friends in high places. Worse still, many of them are lining up to publicly put the boot into the man who hopes to be president in 2007.

The tennis player turned pop star Yannick Noah, actor and comedian Jamel Debbouze, who starred in Amélie, rapper Joey Starr and film director Luc Besson — of Subway, Nikita, Big Blue and Leon fame — are among those attacking Mr Sarkozy, who has been compared to far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and Napoleon.

“Calling people racaille, I’ve not heard anything so violent since Le Pen and his hatred of anyone who is different,” Besson told the film magazine Premier. In an interview with Paris Match, Noah — recently voted France’s most popular personality — declared: “If Sarkozy succeeds [in 2007], then I’m off.”

Even Debbouze, who had previously expressed qualified support for the minister, condemned him. The comic described the minister as “a bourgeois who arrives, cameras in tow, looks at the little rebels and tells them: ‘I’m going to clean you out, you bunch of rabble’.”

Until waves of rioting and urban violence broke out in France’s grim high-rise city suburbs, Mr Sarkozy, a member of Jacques Chirac’s right-of-centre government, appeared to be winning friends and influencing people across the political spectrum. His robust response to the terror threat was widely supported, and a tough new law that he sponsored, which increases surveillance options and lengthens detention periods for suspects, was adopted in parliament yesterday. Leftwing opponents had even congratulated him for his support of positive discrimination for France’s mainly north African immigrant community, allowing the first legal rave party and campaigning for the end to the “double penalty” under which jailed immigrants were deported after serving their sentence.

Then he visited the notorious suburbs north of Paris — known as banlieues — and vowed: “The louts will disappear — we will clean this estate with a Kärcher.” Kärcher is a make of high-pressure hose used to clean buildings. Some felt the minister, known for tough talking, had gone too far. The comedian Muriel Robin told a chatshow: “For a guy to use words like Kärcher makes me feel bad.”

The former footballer Eric Cantona told the Observer: “It’s not easy growing up in a bad neighbourhood. People look at you and treat you in a certain way. In France we are capable of celebrating a man like Napoleon, who brought back slavery. Today he has been replaced by a man who, for me, is Le Pen with a mask: Sarkozy.”

Cantona is not the first to make the comparison with the Front National leader. The Aids campaign group Act-Up has pasted posters around Paris featuring Mr Sarkozy and the slogan “Vote Le Pen”.

In his blog, director Matthieu Kassovitz, whose film La Haine (Hate) was set in the banlieues, said: “Like [George] Bush, Sarkozy is not defending an idea, he is responding to fears that he himself has put in peoples’ heads.” After he described the minister as a “little Napoleon in the making”, Mr Sarkozy took the unusual step of replying, saying: “Apart from your caricaturist and provocative shots targeted at me, I’m responding to you personally because I believe in the virtue of debate and exchange.” He invited the director to “continue the exchange”.

In its editorial, Le Figaro said: “It’s not a fashion, it’s an epidemic. It’s impossible to turn on the television or radio without hearing a singer, actor or sportsman railing against the interior minister.” Despite this, the paper noted that opinion polls showed that many French people agreed with the minister. And it pointed out that Mr Sarkozy could still count on Gérard Depardieu for support. Whether that will sway the voters in 2007 is anyone’s guess.