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February 13, 2006

Good News From France: Sakhozy Pushes Throught Tough New Immigration & Labor Rules

France waking up?

ONLY a year ago it might have provoked angry demonstrations and even a humiliating government retreat, but when Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative interior minister and presidential hopeful, unveiled radical measures last week to curb immigration there was scarcely a murmur of dissent.

Under the new rules, highly skilled immigrants will be favoured over those coming to France to join family. The government will also have greater powers to expel illegal immigrants. “We no longer want immigration that is inflicted on us,” said Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, whose “zero tolerance” policing and American campaigning techniques have shaken up French politics.

Muslim groups were infuriated, interpreting it as a blow to north Africans in favour of Asian job seekers.

The relatively mild response from the left, however, suggested a change of mood in France, as did the surprisingly muted protests against a government scheme that would make it easier to sack young workers in their first two years in a job: unions had promised a turnout of at least 1m people. It was only a fraction of that.

“French opinion really is changing,” said Nicolas Baverez, an economist and author. “People understand that we must make radical changes if we are to continue to have an influence in the world.”

The extraordinary popularity of Sarkozy — “Sarko” — who is competing with Dominique de Villepin, the aristocratic prime minister, to succeed Jacques Chirac as president next year, is one measure of a revolution already under way in a country often described as allergic to change.


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