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Visiting France

French MPs debate immigration

media President of the Assemblée nationale, Bernard Accoyer AFP/Jacques Demarthon

French MPs are debating a bill on immigration and integration on Tuesday. The bill has drawn sharp criticism from opposition MPs, who say it goes against the country's founding principles. Proposals to strip people of French nationality and toughen rules for citizens of European Union states have caused particular controversy.

The bill, which was proposed in March by Immigration Minister Eric Besson, comprises 84 articles and 472 amendments. French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed some of the most hardline amendments in a speech in Grenoble in July after police officers were injured in riots there.

Summer raids on camps of Roma people drew criticism from the European Union and several European governments, as well as the Catholic church.

The Green party said Tuesday that, if the bill is voted into law, the government is putting a question mark over the very concept of citizenship.

"After the spread of economic precariousness, now the government is preparing to create the same problem with citizenship," said the spokesmen Djamila Sonzogni et Jean-Louis
Roumégas.

Meanwhile, MP Etienne Pinte, who is a member of Sarkozy's ruling UMP party and a close ally of Prime Minister François Fillon, said he would vote against the law, saying it panders to the far right.

"I am firmly against this text, which is flirting with National Front voters," he said.

UMP member François Goulard also said he would be voting against it.

But another UMP member Thierry Mariani said most of his party is in favour of the bill.

"Is shooting a police officer proof of intergration?" he asked. "It's symbolic. In politics, symbolism counts."

The main points of the bill

 

  • Violence: in a speech in Grenoble on 30 July, French President Nicolas Sarkozy outlined this amendment to the bill: "We must be able to strip French nationality from anyone of foreign origin who has voluntarily attacked a police officer or anyone else in the employ of the state." In cases where violence results in death, mutilation or permanent disability, nationality can be taken away if the perpetrator has had French nationality for less than 10 years, but not if its leaves them stateless.
  • Travellers: the Schengen pact decrees that citizens European Union member states can move freely and stay anywhere in the Union for three months. The bill proposes that they may be kept out of the country if they "abuse" this right by making multiple journeys in and out of the country or if they are “an unreasonable burden on the social security system”.
  • "Grey" marriages: a term used by Immigration Minister Eric Besson. “Emotional fraud with the goal of immigration," as Besson defines them, are marriages between a foreigner and French person where the French person is considered to have been fooled into marriage under false pretences. The bill proposes these marriages be subject to a seven-year prison sentence, instead of the current five years, and a fine of 30,000 euros, up from 15,000.
  • Ill foreigners: foreigners are allowed to stay in France if their state of health means sending them back would have “exceptionally grave” consequences and if they could not benefit from appropriate treatment in their own country. The debate is turning on the definition of the word “exceptionally”. UMP member Etienne Pinte, for example, has pointed out that “if the treatment exists in the country of origin but the person in question cannot access it in practice, consequences of an 'exceptional gravity' are inevitable: aggravation of the disease, progression of complications, and death”.
  • Retention zones: special zones where groups of 10 or more foreigners may be set up anywhere in the country.
  • Citizens' charter: Candidates for French nationality will have to sign a charter of citizens' rights and duties and fast-track naturalisation will be available for people with "exceptional careers".

 

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