President Sarkozy has been accused of pandering to the far right, after vowing to strip people of immigrant origin who commit some serious crimes of their French nationality.
The president’s warning to immigrants and their children came during a visit to Grenoble, scene of recent unrest.
“I take responsibility. French nationality should be able to be withdrawn from anybody of foreign origin who has voluntarily threatened the life of a police officer or a gendarme,” he said.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech followed other remarks and measures on law and order, reminiscent of his time as French interior minister.
The comments have provoked a furious row. Some newspapers and the left have lined up to accuse the president of discrimination and stigmatisation.
“The first article of the Constitution says the Republic ensures that all citizens are equal before the law without ethnic discrimination,” said Guy Carcassonne, an expert in constitutional law. “In any case, you can’t withdraw people’s French nationality because you can’t make them stateless. That is forbidden by the whole of public international law.”
Clariss Taron, president of the French Magistrates’ union, said:
“At judicial level it’s inapplicable; on a political level it’s extremely shocking. It means we are now reduced only to measures of elimination and repression, absolutely without trying to understand the cause of these disturbances.”
Sarkozy’s choice of Grenoble was no accident. Earlier this month a suburb of the eastern city witnessed rioting after a shooting by police. Officials said some youths fired on police. The President responded by replacing the area’s top law and order official.
He also caused controversy recently when he ordered camps of Roma travellers to be dismantled, and those found to be living in France illegally to be deported.
Sarkozy's nationality threat sparks political storm