The focus of campaigning in France’s presidential election has turned to the sensitive issue of race and immigration. Centre-right frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy has announced plans for a minister with a dedicated portfolio: “Bring your individual heritage and join us, but remember that the concept of national identity involves certain principles. Some things are not up for negotiation. For example, equal rights between men and women, the separation of church and state. That does not seem too surprising to me.”
At a rally yesterday, Sarkozy emphasised that he wanted to pull back the issue of race from the far-right. But, on a visit to Paris’s troubled suburbs, the centrist Francois Bayrou said his aim is to unite and not divide: “You cannot mix immigration and national identity. A government minister cannot preside over national identity, it is something which involves every citizen of the Republic.”
Rising above the polemic, the socialist Segolène Royal analysed the factors which led to support for extremists: “We need to make a fresh start with policies. It’s true, things are going badly, the economy is struggling and people are afraid that they are being dragged under, that they will find suddenly find themselves on the skids.”
Candidates’ applications are still coming in ahead of Friday’s final deadline. By then, everyone must have collected the signatures of at least 500 supporters.