Nicolas Sarkozy has declared there are too many foreigners in France, deliberately using extreme-right rhetoric to regain ground in his difficult re-election battle.
The French president is already under attack by religious leaders and from within his own party for veering to the right and stoking anti-Muslim sentiment by forcing the marginal topic of halal meat into the centre of his campaign. He has now vowed to cut immigration by half and limit state benefits for legal migrants.
“Our system of integration is working increasingly badly, because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school,” he said in a three-hour appearance on a TV politics debate show.
Sarkozy, who lags behind the Socialist frontrunner, François Hollande, is courting voters from Marine Le Pen’s extreme-right Front National more than ever.
But the tactic appeared to have backfired this week. In what newspaper columnists called “sick-making” and “grotesque” electioneering, Sarkozy pushed fears of a supposed secret Islamisation of the dinner plate. He reopened a row, begun last month by Le Pen, over whether meat ritually slaughtered according to Muslim religious standards was being sold on the wider market to unsuspecting non-Muslimconsumers.
The prime minister, François Fillon, is holding emergency talks to smooth relations with Muslim leaders and the Jewish community after wading into the row by suggesting there was little point in Jews or Muslims eating kosher or halal. “Religions should think about whether they should keep traditions that don’t have much in common with today’s state of science, technology and health problems,” he said.
Richard Pasquier, head of the Jewish umbrella group the Crif, not usually critical of the government, said he was “shocked” and “stupefied” by Fillon’s comments. Mohamed Moussaoui, head of France’s biggest Muslim body, said he could not accept that “Muslims serve as scapegoats in this campaign”. Salima Saa, a new figurehead for diversity in Sarkozy’s own UMP party and campaign team, criticised “a discourse of prejudice and stigmatisation”.
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