Sarkozy Acts for Ethnic Diversity

Christine Ollivier, AP, December 17, 2008

President Nicolas Sarkozy, impatient with what he said was the slow pace of promoting diversity in France, announced measures Wednesday to put more ethnic minorities on TV screens, in political parties and in elite schools.

A government action plan to be presented by March will spell out the measures in detail. The project is to be overseen by a newly appointed commissioner for diversity and equality, Yazid Sabeg, a son of Algerian immigrants who is known for his efforts to bring equality to the workplace.

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Turning to his audience, Sarkozy said prestigious schools must make room for all.

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He wants top schools to reserve 25 percent of their places for students receiving state aid by September—and 30 percent by September 2010. Many students who receive government education funds are ethnic minorities from underprivileged backgrounds.

Increasing diversity was a campaign promise of Sarkozy, elected in May 2007. Long ignored, diversity topped the political agenda after fall 2005 riots in poor French neighborhoods exposed deep anger among people of immigrant origin and revealed the extent of discrimination in France.

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Sarkozy squarely rejected affirmative action for France. But in a significant departure from French practice, he raised the possibility that scientists might begin gathering statistics on ethnicity—long taboo in a country that is officially colorblind.

Researchers are handicapped by the inability to make head counts based on religious or ethnic factors and have pressed for permission to do so. Sarkozy said scientists must be able “to clearly identify lagging and measure progress.”

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He encouraged companies to accept anonymous resumes from job seekers to avoid discrimination due to name or address as is often the case today.

The government will propose that 100 large companies experiment with using such resumes in 2009, Sarkozy said, adding that he wants to extend the reach of the High Authority Against Discrimination so that it has the right to make surprise checks of work places.

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Sarkozy also said TV stations will be required to spell out diversity goals to the CSA, France’s audiovisual watchdog.

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