Sarkozy attempts to kill two birds with one stone. Can he do it? asks Eva Dadrian from Paris
In less than four years, France has formulated three immigration bills. The last one (June 2006) was drafted by Nicolas Sarkozy, then minister of interior, and passed by the Upper House of the French parliament only weeks after the Lower Chamber adopted it. The 2006 immigration bill makes it harder for unskilled migrants to settle in France and abolishes the rights of illegal immigrants to remain after 10 years. According to the bill, only the qualified get "skills and talents" residency permits and foreigners will only be allowed in to work, not to live off benefits. It also requires immigrants from outside the European Union to sign a contract agreeing to learn French, and to respect the French way of life and the principles of the French Republic. While it makes it more difficult for immigrants from outside the EU to bring their families over to join them, it also stipulate that foreign spouses will have to wait longer for residency cards.
Now, the government has introduced a new amendment that includes DNA tests to prove family ties with immigrants already in France. The tests, which would be voluntary and may cost a small fortune, have set off a furore among human rights groups, the socialist camp and the Federation Internationale des Droits de l'Homme. It is attacked as a discriminatory and racist measure against "blacks and browns" since EU immigrants are exempt from such tests.
The new measure will allow consular officials at French embassies around the world, especially in former French colonies in Africa, to request DNA tests from all applicants. The measure is aimed at proving family ties in cases where officials have "expressed a serious doubt about the authenticity" of a marriage certificate, birth certificate or other official documents presented. The amendment implies that the authorities in France do not trust the validity of documents issued by those foreign countries, a situation that will have ramifications on the diplomatic level, says Laurent Giovannoni, secretary- general of Cimade, a non-government organisation that helps asylum seekers. Last June, the proposed immigration law was criticised by many Africans, including President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.
Minister of Immigration and Integration Brice Hortefeux argues that other European countries use DNA tests to ferret out fraud, while François Sauvadet, an MP and president of Groupe Nouveau Centre at the National Assembly believes that such testing offers potential immigrants "a new right". His argument comes in defence of Thierry Mariani, also a deputy from Sarkozy's Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), and who made the new amendment to the bill.
According to Mariani, the amendment aims to "root out" bogus visa requests. The UMP deputy is even more categorical when he argues that up to 80 per cent of identity papers submitted by applicants from some parts of Africa were fake documents that may have been obtained either by bribes or prepared by bogus departments. While Mariani says the tests would be a voluntary way to speed up visa procedures for immigrants' relatives, but Socialist Party Deputy George Pau-Langevin, a woman and the only black MP, calls the amendment unacceptable and asks whether such tests would ever be applied to French citizens. In fact, French legislation does not allow DNA tests except when requested for a court decision or for medical purposes.
President Sarkozy started the debate at the same time as his even more controversial speech on retirement and other workplace reforms. Many people are questioning the implications of these new reforms and observers have noticed that Sarkozy was not so confident while delivering his speech on labour reforms. Indeed, the French president knows that the last time a government tried to interfere with pension benefits, in 1995, the country reacted with three weeks of mass strikes that paralysed France. But Sarkozy is more than crafty and he knows that by linking the two issues, he should get the expected results. Indeed it is not difficult to understand and also accept the amendment to the immigration bill when one's job is on the line. For this, he was seconded by Brice Hortefeux, his immigration minister, who argued that for many French citizens "immigration is a source of concern" and, adding insult to injury, says that immigrants are seen as "a threat to French citizens' security, their jobs and their lifestyle." So, two birds with one stone for Sarkozy: the retirement and workplace reforms will be diluted but pass along with the tough immigration amendment and everyone will live happily ever after.
Only last week, the European Commission adopted its Third Annual Report on Migration and Integration, which analyses the actions taken on admission and integration of third-country nationals at the EU and national levels, provides an overview of policy developments and helps to evaluate and strengthen integration measures. According to the report, the number of third-country nationals residing in the EU in January 2006 was 18.5 million, or 3.8 per cent of the total EU population of almost 493 million. According to analysts, the bill, which will be debated again in October by the French Senate, is a step towards fulfilling Sarkozy's goal of increasing the proportion of skilled immigrants entering France strictly to work from the current seven per cent to 50 per cent.
In defence of the amendment, Minister Brice Hortefeux says that 11 European countries had "initiated this reform" In fact, the Prèm Treaty signed in May 2005 between Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria goes even further by ensuring that precise personal information including first time DNA and fingerprint data "may be exchanged swiftly and efficiently by national law enforcement officers to help combat terrorism and cross-border crime, including illegal immigration."