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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pas de prospérité sans immigration

by Émilie Rive

No Prosperity Without Immigration.

Translated Saturday 26 January 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

Economic growth. The Attali report favors opening up the French job market to foreigners, but says nothing about their rights or their status.

The report by Jacques Attali, to whom the French president assigned the task of finding ways to relaunch economic growth, and even, grandiloquently, of contributing to prosperity in France, will detail 300 suggestions when it is published on January 23. In the meantime, bits and pieces of the report have been leaked here and there, and more specifically to le Figaro, the conservative newspaper. Yesterday’s leaks concerned renewing immigration to France and eliminating the administrative units known as “départements.”

Attali, a former advisor to François Mitterrand, after consulting many people and with the agreement of a majority of the 40 personalities who make up his learned assembly, has returned to an idea he holds dear. He had already put it forward in an article in Le Monde in 1997, and he repeated it in an interview with la Tribune last November: “France needs immigration, we’ve got to open up to workers from Eastern Europe, to Chinese workers, to workers from Africa. If we don’t, all our fine discussions about financing retirement schemes will be meaningless.” This idea is based on UN studies that confirm a need for a young workforce in aging Europe, a need which, as concerns France, the French Ministry of Finance and Industry puts at 750,000 people a year, beginning in 2015. As a consequence, immigration corresponds to an economic need. It is a factor in population growth and the production of wealth, and consequently of economic growth.

The argument is without flaw and the thinking fits in perfectly with free trade ideology. And the contradiction with Nicolas Sarkozy’s policy on immigration quotas and picking and choosing immigrants is purely superficial. The French president and his faithful minister for immigration continually repeat that immigration to reunite families must be eliminated while immigration to fill the skilled labor pool must be encouraged. The apparent contradiction is resolved by matching the visa policy with the policies governing job contracts and economic needs.

There remain a few basic questions: Are these people going to be paid at the same rate as French workers? Will they have the same status, and enjoy the same rights, so as not to serve, as their predecessors did, as veritable slaves on the job market? How will the companies in need of workers contribute to the (already urgent) construction of public housing, to the struggle against xenophobia, and to the development of the educational system? For the moment, no one knows whether the Attali report will answer these fundamental questions.

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