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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Fillon enterre sans faste le débat sur l’identité nationale

by Dominique Bègles

Prime Minister Fillon Quietly Buries Debate on National Identity

Translated Thursday 18 February 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Following a three-month debate that kept getting out of hand, and whose main effect has been to breathe new life into the National Front by sparking hatred, in a final diversionary maneuver a government mini-seminar has resulted in mini-measures.

A requiem played at a military marching pace. That phrase sums up the attitude of the French regional press on Monday (Feb. 8) morning with regard to the government seminar held early yesterday afternoon. In the role of conductor, Prime Minister François Fillon, to whom the French presidency assigned the job of finding an honorable exit for the foundering debate on national identity.

The debate had been launched in November by the Minister of Immigration, Eric Besson, a renegade from the French Socialist Party. Besson appeared to be particularly concerned with reinforcing the shifting to the right of French ideology and politics, an operation hitherto conducted at a lively pace by Nicolas Sarkozy and Brice Hortefeux.

This initiative rapidly took on the appearance of a diversionary electoral maneuver. But outrageous remarks – most often orchestrated ones – kept “slipping out” and in the end anti-foreigner sentiment reached disgusting levels. At this point it became all the more urgent to end the debate as, contrary to the expectations of the French presidency, it is the National Front which seems to have reaped the benefits, whereas according to the official explanation the aim was to wash whiter than the far right in order to hang on to voters who might otherwise be tempted to return to the right-wing extremist camp.

The original Sarkozyite scenario was for a high mass attended by the French president to celebrate the three-month anniversary of the operation, on the eve of the official beginning of the regional election campaign. But in the end there was just a little seminar which eight ministers failed to attend due to their “busy timetable.”

You could sense the embarrassment all weekend long. The French president stormed that putting a full stop to the debate was out of the question – he prefers thinking in terms of a “report at the end of the first phase.”

To pull off the bait-and-switch, the Prime Minister was charged with arranging the funeral, stuck between a polemic that had become suicidal and a presidential party, the UMP, which refuses to foot the bill: “There is no question of backing down or of apologizing,” Frédéric Lefebvre, the UMP spokesman, kept repeating like a broken record. So it was up to François Fillon to present a few secondary propositions to symbolize the great scheme which – hear ye, hear ye – animates the government.

A debate that is “not a flash in the pan.”

The measures were draped in the colors of the Sarkozyite republic. The rules of the game obliged the tenant of Matignon (the Prime Minister’s residence) to present the seminar as “a first stage” and the debate will “not be a flash in the pan” and other seminars will follow. Nor did he bat an eye as he announced – faithful to the means traditionally used in the Third and Fourth Republics to bury false problems – the creation of “a commission, under the authority of the Ministry of Immigration, and which will bring together historians, sociologists and elected officials.”

Among the dozen bare-minimum measures, we note that “pride in being French” is to be reinforced by the flying of the French flag and the posting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen at every school

Another innovation is “a young citizen’s logbook for each pupil from elementary school to high school, and a welcome-and-integration contract, and a reinforcement of citizenship and linguistic training.”

Finally, a ceremony to mark admission to French citizenship will be celebrated with the signature of a charter of rights and duties. According to some rumors, the government also has stowed away a “residence permit based on points,” on the model of an Italian project backed by the separatist and xenophobic Northern League. But it must have been abandoned.

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