Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Immigration and the Center in French Politics

As we arrive at the Center of the French political landscape we start to hear words like "common culture", "civilization" and "heritage".  Nationalist rhetoric tends to send me running to the bookshelf to retrieve my copy of Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson.  What is intriguing is that this nationalism is embedded in a larger project called "Europe".  The boundaries that define "we, the people" now include other Europeans which is extraordinary when you consider European history up to and including the events of the 20th century.  Anderson quotes the French writer Ernest Renan who wrote:
Or l'essence d'une nation est que tous les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun, et aussi que tous aient oublie bien de choses.
(The essence of a nation is that individuals have much in common and also that they have all forgotten many things.)
I think we are seeing the forging of a new identity that requires a kind of collective amnesia on the part of all Europeans.  This is not a criticism - I like to think I, a fairly nationalistic American, am not that big a hypocrite.  It is more of an observation relevant to our discussion because it has an enormous impact on the debate over immigration in EU countries.  The framing of the debate is less and less about French or Germans versus foreigners (though some of that still exists) and more and more about "Europeans" versus "Third-country nationals" or "non-EU foreign nationals."

Let's start with MoDem - Mouvement Democrate (Democratic Movement).  This party is a successor to another party called the the Union for French Democracy (UDF).  MoDem was founded in 2007 as a center/center right party more or less aligned with the Right.  If you look at their founding principles they are for limiting state intervention.  The State, they say, can not be "all powerful" - it exists primarily to defend the rights of actors in society and to be their advocate and partner.  Article 12 defines their vision of Europe as "L’Europe des peuples et des citoyens, active et solidaire, où les Etats nationaux, détenteurs d’un patrimoine commun de civilisation, défendent ensemble leurs intérêts et leurs valeurs est le modèle de ces libres organisations. Sa construction est donc non seulement une nécessité mais un devoir."
(The Europe of people and citizens, active and unified, where the national states, possessors of a common heritage and civilization, defending together their interests and values is the model of these free organizations.  The construction of Europe is not simply a necessity, it is a duty.")

Being pro-Europe, however, does not make them anti-immigrant.  Figuring prominently on their website, are the writings of Fadila Mehal, a Frenchwoman of Algerian origin.  She clearly speaks out against discrimination, violence against immigrants, and for integration.

Le Nouveau Centre (The New Center) was also created in 2007 when a disagreement arose during the creation of MoDem.  There was a split and former members of the UDF decided to create their own party.  They are allies of the President, Nicolas Sarkozy. I was charmed to see that their value statement mentions Tocqueville.  Like MoDem they are pro-Europe.

Their leader, Hervé Morin, published his views on immigration in this piece on their website.  He says, "La politique d’immigration ne doit pas être une politique de stigmatisation..." (Immigration policy should not be a policy of stigmatisation...) and "doit, pour être efficace, impérativement s’inscrire dans un cadre européen" (and must, in order to be effective, be built within the framework of Europe).  He goes on to argue that a common European policy on immigration must have three pillars:  better border control, an analysis of Europe's real needs in terms of "arms and brains" and EU aid for development.  From this, I conclude that M. Morin is probably in favor of the EU Blue Card.

So the center parties have a more nuanced approach to immigration.  Against discrimination and extreme views but for a defense of European values and a common EU policy.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at the Right, the party of President Sarkozy (the UMP).

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