BRUSSELS – A combative Nicolas Sarkozy during a TV show on Tuesday (6 March) said there are too many immigrants in France and tried to defend his leadership and economic policy.
“Our system of integration is working more and more badly, because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school,” he said.
Himself the son of a Hungarian immigrant and a former minister of interior, Sarkozy has pursued hardline policing against irregular migrants, such as the ‘voluntary’ repatriations of thousands of Roma travellers to Romania and Bulgaria in 2010 or the push-backs of Tunisian migrants coming via Italy.
He has been accused of adopting a more extreme right-wing discourse in a bid to woo voters from nationalist leader Marine Le Pen because he trailing in the polls behind the Socialist contender in the run up to April elections.
The Tuesday debate, with former Socialist minister Laurent Fabius, confirmed this trend: “Over the five-year term I think that to restart the process of integration in good conditions, we must divide by two the number of people we welcome, that’s to say to pass from 180,000 per year to 100,000,” Sarkozy said.
He also announced new plans to limit some welfare payments for immigrant workers to those who have enjoyed residency for 10 years and have worked for five of those years.
The anti-immigrant stance came the same day as his Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, caused a stir in Muslim and Jewish communities by questioning their way of butchering animals for food.
“These are ways which may have had hygiene reasons a long time ago, but not nowadays,” he said.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith slammed what it said was the use of Muslims as “scapegoats” in the election. The Grand Rabbi of France asked whether this was really France’s number one problem as it struggles with the economic crisis.
The issue was brought up by Le Pen, who last month claimed all meat in Paris abattoirs is prepared using Islamic halal methods and that non-Muslim consumers in the capital are being misled.
Both kosher and halal slaughter methods require the abattoir to kill the beast by slitting its throat rather than stunning it first, as is done in normal slaughterhouses. Sarkozy on Saturday suggested the meat should be clearly labelled.
Merkel in hotels
On other matters, Sarkozy said it has not been easy to win the heart of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, because she grew up “behind the [Berlin] Wall.”
But he claimed the economic crisis – which multiplied their meetings – has brought them closer together.
“We have been together for three years now going from crisis to crisis, staying in the same hotels,” he noted.
He also pledged to visit Merkel first if he wins the election “not because I miss her, but because a woman leading a country of 80 million deserves to be respected.”
A survey by pollster CSA published on Tuesday showed Sarkozy still trailing behind the Socialists’ Francois Hollande by two percent (28% to 30%) in the first round and by eight in a run-off (46% to 54%).
Sarkozy said he never trusts polls anyway.
“In 2007, there were so many saying I would lose in the second round because I was not cut out to be a president – the wrong stature, a bad haircut, no elite school. And still I won,” he noted.