Mr. Sarkozy is still reeling from his description of young troublemakers in the country’s grimy suburbs as “scum” and of his subsequent handling of the nightly clashes there late last year, in which he said the answer was zero tolerance of crime.
In a Cevipof poll in September, 49 percent of French voters who responded said they were afraid of him. Just last week, Mr. Sarkozy failed to show up for a dinner in Paris that brought together more than 300 Franco-African party members, sending a top aide in his place and opening himself up to criticism.
But on his home turf on Wednesday, Mr. Sarkozy clearly wanted to prove that he was a conciliator and that he was as concerned about job opportunities, quality education and decent housing for young people as he was about law and order.
“I’m not allowed to disappoint you,” he said in a speech to the hundreds of attendees in closing the conference. “This day will be useful only if it has a tomorrow.”
Reiterating his support for some degree of affirmative action in France, he added: “You are French exactly like the others, but you are burdened with a certain number of handicaps. We have to help you more than the others.”
With France’s presidential election four months away, Mr. Sarkozy and the other leading candidates are campaigning hard to seduce the country’s alienated and disadvantaged ethnic populations.
One goal, certainly, is to persuade the largely ethnic Arab and African populations that live in the suburbs to register and vote. But a much larger aim is to convince the French electorate as a whole that the country’s economic, social and cultural divide can be narrowed and that people can feel confident abut the future.
“Five years ago, immigration and integration were not campaign issues of the mainstream parties,” said Vincent Tiberj, a sociologist. “This time, the French are questioning the failure of integration and asking themselves about their capacity to integrate new foreigners. The debate has changed.” Read more...
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