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France: Affirmative action to quell growing unrest

Dominique de Villepin calls for a return to Republican values

The Prime Minister appeared on the TF1 evening news on Monday 7 November in the wake of violence in certain sensitive urban areas. He pointed out that the recent unrest was “unacceptable and inexcusable” and that the response of the State would be “firm and just”. Dominique de Villepin announced measures in the areas of education, employment, housing and discrimination, aimed at ensuring that “these neighbourhoods are provided with a living infrastructure so that the people who live there can really make a place for themselves”.

The Government’s priority is to restore public order

The families of the two young people who died in Clichy-sous-Bois have met with the Prime Minister, who stated that all of the information available had been provided “in a fully transparent manner”. “The ongoing judicial enquiry will determine exactly what happened,” said Dominique de Villepin.

The Prime Minister also reminded viewers that a judicial enquiry had been opened following the incident during which a teargas canister hit a mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois, but that the building had in no way been targeted.

He stated that “the Government’s response has been firm” and pointed out that the forces on the ground were currently being added to. Eight thousand security-force members are currently mobilised, and 1,500 reservists have been called up, making a total of 9,500 police and gendarmes.

The Prime Minister praised the “exceptional mobilisation” of the security forces and fire service, who were displaying “control and professionalism”.

Concerning the justice system, Dominique de Villepin said that the courts should do whatever was necessary to organise immediate hearings to judge the perpetrators.

The Prime Minister announced that “given the circumstances, the President has called a meeting of the Council of Ministers for Tuesday morning to activate the 1955 law, which gives prefects the power to declare a curfew if they deem such a measure necessary”. These powers would apply throughout the country, in order to “ensure that protection is afforded to all”.

The Prime Minister called for “a return to Republican values and a spirit of responsibility”, and said that the requisite measures would be taken as the need arose.

Favouring integration through education, employment and housing

The Prime Minister, who is keen to find solutions and set out priorities with regard to integration, announced additional powers for mayors, who are the “representatives of Republican order".

It was also essential to restore the State aid to local associations which were “in touch with the day-to-day realities” in the suburbs concerned. “We cut that contribution, but we are now going to restore it,” said the Prime Minister. These measures are intended, among other things, to facilitate dialogue.

Dominique de Villepin set out three priorities:

Education

The Prime Minister reminded viewers that 15,000 children were not attending school and that Republican education should be made a reality. To ensure that each child’s needs are taken into account, the Prime Minister plans to:

• lower the minimum age for apprenticeship from 16 to 14.

• encourage the most gifted by tripling resources for scholarships and excellence-centred boarding schools.

He added that the commitment to education would also involve the strengthening of educational success teams.

Employment

The Prime Minister underlined the importance of providing unemployed young people with hope for the future. He announced that the public employment agencies would meet the young people concerned over the next few months to ensure that, within three months, they could be offered a contract, a training programme or a work-experience opportunity. “Everyone must find a solution,” he said.

Housing

The urban-renewal plan being implemented by Mr Borloo needs to be further developed. “This important work takes time,” said the Prime Minister, adding that the lead time would be cut to 18 months.

Fighting discrimination efficiently

Dominique de Villepin reminded viewers that all of the young people concerned were “expressing the same pain, a feeling that they did not have the same opportunities”. “We must provide an answer,” he said. The creation of a High Authority to Fight Discrimination and to Promote Equality or HALDE (Haute autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l’égalité) and corporate involvement (through the diversity charter) were both integral parts of this effort.

The Prime Minister concluded that the fight against discrimination was also “everyone’s responsibility”, and that it required all of us to “change our behaviour”. He reminded viewers that the Republic was based on “rights and also on duties to the Nation”.

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