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France Renews Debate Over Affirmative Action for Minorities

In France, the rioting has revived the national debate about how to integrate religious and ethnic minorities – especially in the job market.

France had generally rejected American-style affirmative action, or “positive discrimination,” as it is called there. The French government says all citizens should be able to compete according to merit, and not by racial quotas. In fact, French law prevents classifying citizens by race or religion. This, despite the fact that last year, the country’s tough-talking interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, argued in favor of some type of program to lift Africans and Arabs out of suburban ghettos.

Patrick Weil is a senior research fellow at the University of Paris-Sorbonne and a fellow on immigration at the French branch of the German Marshal Fund in Paris.

Mr. Weil told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that the French government is considering various strategies for improving the social and economic conditions of immigrants. One, which he backs, is to allow the top performing students from all high schools to be allowed entry to universities. He says it’s a model that’s being tried in Texas and other states in the United States. On the other hand, the government has formed a so-called “High Authority Against Discrimination” that can investigate companies that practice intentional or de facto discrimination – and recommend prosecution. In the short term, Mr. Weil says the government can not tolerate violence, but should also apologize for the accidental deaths of two African youths fleeing police pursuit last week – and for the tear gasing of a Paris mosque by authorities.