World Focus: Race issue gives Sarkozy an easy route to boost support

Can it be coincidence the President rants about foreigners when his approval rating is at its lowest ebb?

Racist, the French? A recent opinion poll suggested that 70 to 80 per cent of French people welcomed President Sarkozy's idea that certain criminals "of foreign origin" should be stripped of their French nationality.

The proposal, which will be formalised before the end of the month, has been attacked by voices on both the left and the right as cynical and unworkable.

The more thoughtful critics include two people who are by no means Sarko-haters, the celebrity philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and the former Socialist prime minister, Michel Rocard. By associating "foreign origin" with violent crime, they say, the President is stooping to the populist logic of the far right National Front. He is even, Mr Rocard suggested at the weekend, resurrecting the xenophobic and anti-Republican legislation of the collaborationist Vichy regime of 1940-44.

Can it just be a coincidence, the critics ask, that Mr Sarkozy is ranting about crime and foreigners when the economic crisis, and now a party-financing scandal, have brought his approval ratings to their lowest ever ebb? What is "foreign origin", anyway? Will the new law apply only to people who were born abroad? Or will it also apply to second and third generation immigrants? What would happen to people left with no nationality? On Friday, a poll in Le Figaro gave high approval ratings to this and other recent proposals by Mr Sarkozy to get tough on crime. The figures were received with undisguised glee in the Elysée Palace.

"A slap in the face for the well-meaning," said Mr Sarkozy's childhood friend, the Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux. "As usual, 'Sarkozyism' is out of step with the élites but in step with society."

Another informative poll appeared yesterday. According to an annual survey by the Journal du Dimanche, the French West Indian pop singer and former tennis player Yannick Noah remains the most popular person in France for the sixth year in succession. The second most popular Frenchman is the retired footballer Zinédine Zidane, born in Marseilles to Algerian parents. Seven of the people in the top 10 are, arguably, to use Mr Sarkozy's phrase, "of foreign origin". Racist, the French?

President Sarkozy, also "of foreign origin", did not feature in the top 50. The list is, admittedly, freighted with singers, actors, sports stars and television presenters (many of whom are unknown outside France).

Two incidents sparked the President's recent series of diatribes against criminals and especially criminals "of foreign origin". Shots were fired at police last month during riots in Grenoble, after a young man of North African origin was killed by police while trying to rob a casino. Gypsies of French origin rioted in a small town in central France after a gendarme shot dead a young gypsy whose car failed to stop at a checkpoint.

In the first case, the rioters were a typically disparate bunch of teenagers from the "troubled" suburbs of Grenoble: brown, black and some white but all, almost certainly, born in France. In the second case, the "travelling people" who rioted were people with French surnames whose families have lived in France for centuries.

President Sarkozy's response to the Grenoble incident was to make a speech linking crime and immigration and promising to remove the French nationality of people "of foreign origin" who fired bullets at policemen. His response to the second incident was to launch a crackdown on the Roma who have entered France illegally from Eastern Europe in recent years (but had nothing to do with the rural riot). A Roma camp near Lyons was cleared by police on Friday.

In both cases, President Sarkozy made a connection between crime and legal and illegal immigration which was at best wilful, and worst dishonest. There is a problem with Roma entering France illegally but vigorous efforts were already being made to repatriate them. Five years after the riots of October 2005, the troubled multi-racial banlieues of French cities remain a powder keg.

Before his election in 2007, Mr Sarkozy promised to encourage the many positive things which also happen in the banlieues. Little has been done.

Racist, the French? No, but they are depressingly willing, it seems, to be led by the nose by simplistic, xenophobic formulae and slogans.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?