French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of blatant election engineering, following his remarks that there are "too many foreigners in France."
With Sarkozy hoping to succeed to a second term as President in the April elections, his comments on immigration played to populist sentiments espoused by rival presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front. France 24 reported that during a television debate on March 6 Sarkozy said there were “too many foreigners in France” as he promised to halve immigration figures if re-elected, to around 100,000.
According to the EU Observer Sarkozy went on to say "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." Additionally he promised to tighten up on benefit payments to immigrants.
Current immigrant levels hover just under the 200,00 mark, a figure the National Front wants to slash to 10,000. Wallerand de Saint Juste, campaign manager for Marine Le Pen, reacted by denouncing Sarkozy's motives as he said “Sarkozy has never had the courage to tackle immigration head on because he knows he will be accused of racism. It’s a desperate gesture in the face of Marine Le Pen's high support. Such an extraordinary and stunning announcement so close to the election shows complete contempt for the French people.”
Meanwhile Mireille Le Corre, immigration spokeswoman for the Socialist Party's rival presidential candidate Francois Hollande, denounced Sarkozy's plans a “irresponsible, impossible and bad politics" accusing him of "blatant electioneering."
There have been attempts to tackle immigration. During the exodus of Arabs from Tunisia following the ousting of Ben Ali in January 2011 the French government initiated measures to prevent the free travel of Tunisians to France. Sarkozy was also behind the controversial measure to deport Roma gypsies, breaching European immigration laws. As Time reported European Union officials accused Sarkozy of "fanning xenophobia " in his move to deport the Roma, considered responsible for much criminal activity in France.