Discussion: Immigration & National Identity

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Discussion: Immigration & National Identity

Discussion: Immigration & National Identity

NOW FOR AN ORIGINAL PAPER ASSIGNMENT: Discussion: Immigration & National Identity

Immigration and National Identity

There are an estimated fourteen million French citizens of foreign ancestry (about 23% of the total population) and more than three million Arabs, mostly from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. High unemployment and urban decay have eroded traditional French hospitality toward political exiles, refugees, and asylum seekers, as well as immigrants in general. Immigrants are often willing to work for low wages, crowd into cities, and compete for scarce jobs.

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy, a hard-liner on immigration, put the issue of “national identity” high on the French government’s policy agenda. In 2009, France’s minister for Immigration and National Identity, Eric Besson, kicked off a three-month national debate on “what it means to be French.” Muslim headscarves, citizenship classes, and a proposal to make schoolchildren sing France’s national anthem (“La Marseillaise”) were among the issues raised—symptoms of a deeper vein of race-tinged social tension in France that is not likely to disappear any time soon.

In 2010, 120,000 people became naturalized French citizens, but this number fell by more than 30% percent in 2011-2012. With an eye to the 2012 elections, the Sarkozy government deported 33,000 illegal immigrants in 2011 and moved to introduce a multiple-choice history and culture test for would-be citizens. But the new Socialist government scrapped this plan, easing the path to citizenship. A good proficiency in the French language is still required.

No one knows how many illegal immigrants reside in France now, but with the Socialists back in power, more will likely seek legal status.

Foreign Policy

De Gaulle’s disdain for the “special relationship” between the United States and the UK and the mutual mistrust it fostered played a key role in shaping France’s postwar foreign policy. France participated in the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, but President Chirac opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, defiantly blocking U.S. efforts in the UN Security Council to get the United Nations to endorse the action.

A virtual partnership between France and Germany has been an essential pillar of the European Union from its origins. Differences over how to deal with the euro crisis has led to severe strains in Franco-German relations in recent years. How this bilateral relationship at the core of the European project is managed in a time of crisis will go a long way toward deciding the fate of France and Europe in the coming years.

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