French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced plans to create greater opportunities for the country's minorities in education, politics and business.
President Sarkozy made his call for greater diversity during a speech at an elite science and engineering school outside Paris. He said the nation could not ignore the widening gap between its diverse society and the largely white elite produced by France's education system.
Mr. Sarkozy said France needs to redress this balance through social criteria. By reducing social divisions, he said, the country can also fight against ethnic and religious divisions.
The French president announced several measures to promote diversity, with many focusing on education. He wants a greater number of spots in preparatory classes for elite schools to go to scholarship children, many of whom are minorities. He also wants minority children to get special scholarships and tuition reductions.
But Mr. Sarkozy also called for greater diversity in French politics, business and media, where minorities again are underrepresented. The issue is highly controversial in France, with many politicians and ordinary French hostile to American-style affirmative-action programs.
They argue instead for a color- and religious-blind country under the larger banner of liberty, equality and fraternity. The French president has also avoided the use of "affirmative action" in the past, choosing instead the term "positive discrimination."
The question of diversity surfaced most recently with the election of Barack Obama as the next U.S. president. It has sparked a debate over whether French and Europeans are ready to elect a racial minority to top political office as well.
Meanwhile, the new Miss France, who won the crown this month, has an African-American mother and a white French father. She has vowed to incarnate the diversity seen in France today.