Multiculturalism doesn't work in France, says Sarkozy
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Nicolas Sarkozy took a hard line as he fielded questions on immigration, crime, employment and cabinet ministers' foreign holiday gaffes during a television interview led by members of the public on Thursday night. Notably the president said that multiculturalism had failed in France, and refused to take back his controversial comments on the French judiciary that prompted magistrates to go on strike.
Some 8.2 million people watched Sarkozy's appearance on TF1, the channel said, equivalent to 34.1 per cent of the total audience.
A pre-selected panel of nine French citizens put their questions to the chef d'état. He also responded to comments submitted online.
These were the main topics he discussed:
- Multiculturalism: for the first time, Sarkozy bluntly described multiculturalism as "a failure". "The truth is that in all our democracies, we're too concerned with the identity of the people coming in and not enough with the identity of the country that's taking them in," he said. "We don't want a society in which communities co-exist alongside each other. If you come to France, you agree to base yourself in a single community, the national community. If you don't accept that, you don't come to France."
- Crime: Sarkozy identified two areas in which the government hasn't succeeded - juvenile deliquancy and what he called "hyperviolence". He said changes would be introduced by the summer, possibly tougher sentences and reforms of rules governing who is tried in youth courts.
- Magistrates: the judiciary will not be getting any extra funding, Sarkozy insisted. Nor did he apologise for his recent criticism of judges that prompted unions to call a strike. He's leaving it to France's Justice Minister to hold an "open consultation" with magistrates from Friday.
- Employment: the government will give an extra 500 million euros to the Ministry of Employment this year, Sarkozy said, with the aim of targeting young job seekers and those on long-term unemployment benefits. Measures will be introduced to force businesses to take on more trainees.
- Ministers' foreign holidays: "Not a cent of public money was misused", Sarkozy stressed, but recognised that government members' acceptance of foreign leaders' hospitality "can shock people and therefore it must stop".
- Egypt: the departure of Hosni Mubarak is "inevitable", according to Sarkozy. He hopes Egypt will head down "the path of democracy" and not "another form of dictatorship" - "religious dictatorship".
Giving their verdict on the perfomance, a number of French papers drew attention to the relatively easy ride the "citizen panel" gave the president.
The format was designed to allow Sarkozy to show off government policy, the Midi Libre complained, while L'Humanité suggested that he had requested a non-confrontational panel of interviewers that markedly did not include any trade unionists.
Magistrates reacted angrily, with two unions calling for strike action to be extended until Tuesday.
Meanwhile politicians from both the left and far-right criticised Sarkozy's statements.
The Green Party accused him of trying to emulate far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, while Le Pen herself dismissed his new criticism of multiculturalism as "lies" and said he came across as powerless.
But the most damning verdict came from François Bayrou, head of the centrist Union for French Democracy party, who described Sarkozy's performance as "deathly dull".