METZ, France—President Jacques Chirac on Friday called for more ethnic minorities to be recruited into the public sector, two months after riots erupted in hundreds of run-down, high-immigration French towns.
In a New Year address to civil servants, Chirac said the sector should be more open to “French people of immigrant background”, although he steered clear of any mention of ethnic quotas.
Instead he repeated a proposal made in November, immediately after the riots, for unqualified young people from rough French suburbs to have access through training to certain categories of civil service and police jobs.
Chirac also proposed new entry tests to open up the senior civil service to candidates from outside the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the country’s top school for future public servants.
Earlier this week he called for France’s elite private higher education institutes, known as the Grandes Ecoles, to lift their intake from poor French suburbs—many of them high-immigration zones—to one third.
Many of the youths involved in last autumn’s riots, mostly French-born children of African and north-African immigrants, complained of heavy handed policing and of being ostracised from mainstream society.
The unemployment rate among 15-24 year-olds in poor, predominantly black-and Arab-populated city suburbs’ reaches 40 percent, almost twice the national average of 23 percent for the same age group.
There are no official statistics on ethnic minorities in France, in line with the Republican notion that all citizens are equal under the law regardless of their background.
But the riots have forced France to take a closer look at the question of ethnic discrimination, and a lack of representation in public life, despite strong resistance towards moving to American-style affirmative action.
Only two French ministers are from ethnic minorities, and their appointments—as ministers for equal opportunities and war veterans—have been derided by the government’s critics as token gestures.
In the French parliament, two senators come from immigrant backgrounds, while the only non-white faces in the lower house national assembly are deputies from France’s overseas territories.
Meanwhile, the public broadcaster France Televisions recruited its first ever black news anchor in 2004, a young woman from the island of Martinique.