France 24, December 30, 2011
France will be making it harder for foreigners to seek French citizenship as of January. Critics say the new requirements, which include tough language tests and allegiance to “French values”, are an electoral ploy that panders to the far right.
Foreigners seeking French nationality face tougher requirements as of January 1, when new rules drawn up by Interior Minister Claude Guéant come into force.
Candidates will be tested on French culture and history, and will have to prove their French language skills are equivalent to those of a 15-year-old mother tongue speaker. They will also be required to sign a new charter establishing their rights and responsibilities.
“Becoming French is not a mere administrative step. It is a decision that requires a lot of thought”, reads the charter, drafted by France’s High Council for Integration (HCI). In a more obscure passage, the charter suggests that by taking on French citizenship, “applicants will no longer be able to claim allegiance to another country while on French soil”, although dual nationality will still be allowed.
Guéant, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, described the process as “a solemn occasion between the host nation and the applicant”, adding that migrants should be integrated through language and “an adherence to the principals, values and symbols of our democracy”. He stressed the importance of the secular state and equality between women and men: rhetoric perceived largely as a snipe at Muslim applicants, who make up the majority of the 100,000 new French citizens admitted each year.
France’s interior minister has made it clear that immigrants who refuse to “assimilate” into French society should be denied French citizenship.
Earlier this year, Guéant intervened personally to ensure an Algerian-born man living in France was denied French nationality because of his “degrading attitude” to his French wife.
That followed an earlier push by France’s former Immigration Minister Eric Besson to revise existing laws in order to strip polygamists of their acquired citizenship.
Pandering to the far right?
Guéant has come under criticism numerous times over the past year for allegedly pandering to the whims of far-right voters in his efforts to secure a second term for Sarkozy in 2012. The UMP has edged progressively further right over the course of Sarkozy’s term, even as the far-right National Front party continued to bite into its pool of voters.
Marine Le Pen, the popular leader of the anti-immigration National Front, has been campaigning in favour of a ban on dual citizenship in France, which she blames for encouraging immigration and weakening French values. While several UMP members have endorsed her stance, Guéant has stopped short of calling for a ban on dual nationality, largely because of the legal difficulties such a move would entail.
But the interior minister has taken a hard line on immigration, announcing plans to reduce the number of legal immigrants coming to France annually from 200,000 to 180,000 and calling for those convicted of felony to be expelled from the country.
François Hollande, the Socialist Party’s candidate in forthcoming presidential elections, described Guéant’s stance as “the election strategy of a right wing ready to do anything in order to hold on to power”, adding that his own party would tackle all criminals “irrespective of their nationality”.
Under further proposals put forward by the ruling UMP party, non-French children who would normally be naturalised at the age of 18 (those who are born in the country and have spent most of their childhood there) would instead have to formally apply to the state.
Should Sarkozy and his party secure a second term in 2012, analysts predict a return to an immigration stance that hasn’t been seen in France for almost two decades. They point to a case of déjà vu: in 1993 Charles Pasqua, then France’s interior minister, coined the slogan “zero immigration” and introduced a bill that made it virtually impossible for children born in France to non-French parents to be naturalised.