France’s opposition Socialists on Wednesday blasted President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to halve immigration as “irresponsible, impossible and bad politics.”
Sarkozy told France 2 television on Tuesday that there were “too many foreigners in France” and that if he won the upcoming presidential election he would reduce the number of immigrants allowed into the country from just under 200,000 to 100,000 a year.
He also said he wanted to toughen naturalisation rules and make it harder for newcomers to the country to claim benefits.
“It was blatant electioneering,” said Mireille Le Corre, immigration spokeswoman for Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande.
Le Corre told FRANCE 24 that Sarkozy’s “improvised” announcement was an obvious attempt to impress conservative voters who had drifted towards the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen.
Sarkozy is polling at 26% for the first round of the election, compared to Hollande’s 29.5%, according to the IFOP. Marine Le Pen has 16%.
‘Impossible to achieve’
“That he pulled this figure out of the hat on national television shows that he is desperate. It has no bearing on targets announced by the interior minister last month, which shows that Sarkozy’s campaign is unstable and foundering.”
Even the National Front, a party that is overtly anti-immigration, was surprised by Sarkozy’s announcement.
Marine le Pen’s campaign spokesman Wallerand de Saint Juste told FRANCE 24 that such a huge change in direction on such an important electoral issue was “totally surreal”.
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.”
The National Front’s policy on immigration quotas is much more extreme than Sarkozy’s. The party wants to reduce the number of foreigners moving to France to just 10,000 a year.
According to official figures, the number of immigrants coming into the country rose consistently from 1995 to reach 214,000 people in 2004, a time when Nicolas Sarkozy was France’s interior minister and responsible for immigration.
The figure fell to 200,000 the following year and has hovered around this level ever since, throughout Sarkozy’s presidency from 2007 until now.