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France - National identity

Minister launches national debate on French identity

Article published on the 2009-11-02 Latest update 2009-11-02 16:47 TU

France's Immigration, Integration, Integration and National Identity Minister Eric Besson.AFP

France's Immigration, Integration, Integration and National Identity Minister Eric Besson.

France's immigration minister, Eric Besson, opened a public debate Monday on "what it means to be French". Opposition parties have criticised the initiative as a political exercise designed to boost support for the right ahead of regional elections in March.

From 2 November until 31 January, people all over the world are invited to share their views on obligatory citizenship classes, La Marseillaise, the wearing of Muslim headscarves, and other things that do - or do not - constitute "being French".

The consultation will be carried out via public meetings throughout mainland France and its overseas territories, as well as on an online forum.

Eric Besson, Minister for Immigration and National Identity and the man behind this initiative, says the debate will "allow us to attempt to redefine what we keep of our past".

His opponents have reacted angrily to the move. Socialist Party spokesman Benoît Hamon claimed that Besson's UMP party was using the initiative to bolster its support with far-right voters. 

Meanwhile, the vice-president of anti-immigration party the National Front, Marine Le Pen, complained that the consultation was purely for show and would fail to address "the real identity crisis gripping our country".

Even within Besson's party, criticism has come from Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner, who says that France needs to focus attention on its future within Europe.

The French public, however, appears to back the debate. According to a survey published in the Le Parisien newspaper, 60 per cent of people are in favour of the debate, while just 35 per cent oppose it.