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Online Working Paper No. 12, 2008

Multiculturalism in France:
Evolutions and Challenges
Artan Fuga

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Title: Multiculturalism in France: Evolutions and Challenges
Author(s): Artan Fuga
Working Paper No.12
This version: December 2008
Webpage: http://www.eurosphere.uib.no/knowledgebase/workingpapers.htm

EUROSPHERE, 2008
http://www.eurosphere.uib.no

2008 by Artan Fuga


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Artan Fuga
Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, France
afuga@neuf.fr

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Multiculturalism in France: Evolutions and


Challenges

Artan FUGA
The French society manifests multiple historical specificities in relation to its
model of integration of diverse and various cultures, carried by individuals
descending from immigration, living in the midst of a social reality deeply
marked by traditions, mentalities and institutions established in the framework
of its civilisation.

1. Evolution of concepts
It is evident that social relations, concepts and collective representations
regarding the issue of multiculturalism in France have gradually evolved
during the recent decades. As it was already emphasised by Madame Blandine
Kriegel, the president of High Council of Integration (HCI), the historic trend
has moved from a traditional republicanism that divides into cantons the
common world of cultural diversity to the strict private space1 towards
another conception, wishing to be more supple and tolerant, characterising the
ongoing years.
In the concepts used by social sciences in France and by those who
articulate public speeches of the state administration, the space of dialogue in
this field is really transformed, abandoning gradually the terms assimilation
and insertion regarding the place reserved for foreigners within the French
society, to switch toward policies and collective behaviours based always on
another concept more contemporary than that of integration.
The republican assimilation, a quite traditional concept, established by the
political history of France, required gradual and complete obliteration of
important cultural differences between the French by origin and foreigners
coming through tides of immigration in the French soil. Consequently, from
the French revolution, the French constitutional framework reposes on an
ensemble of fundamental democratic values based on formal equality between
citizens by law and on the concept of universality of human being, i.e. on the
existence of the individuals, who, regardless of their cultural or racial
differences, should enjoy the same rights and have same duties in the nation.
The French law considers all the citizens as equals despite their ethnic origin
and race deriving from the country of origin and their family culture. The
French nation is legally considered as an entity based on the right of soil, not
of blood, thus it is built differently from the German one. It means that there is
1

See : Le Bilan de la politique dintgration (2002 2005), Rapport au Premier Ministre, La Documentation
Franaise, p. 78, Paris 2006

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a common life chosen by the ensemble of citizens responding to the same


laws, juridical norms and institutional frameworks. Following this tradition
coming from the long history of the nation state, the French law prohibits any
specific treatment, any positive or negative discrimination, any social and
cultural privilege based on a differentiated appreciation of citizens and their
juridical and political status. In this sense, the public space is dominated by a
discourse imposing a blind, disinterested policy in relation to the different
cultural and ethnic identities of citizens.
In the current terminological context in France, the concept of insertion
contains particular specificities which, on the one hand, differ from the
concept of assimilation, and, on the other hand, provide to it new
characteristics in relation to the concept of integration.
Insertion concerns above all the efforts made to allow immigrants and
individuals coming from disadvantaged social groups to have a less painful
access to the labour world and professions, to help them in resolving their
housing problems and to improve the quality of their social and family life. By
this token, in the framework of the process of insertion, immigrants are still
considered as an element that is not necessarily integrated in the local society.
They are rather considered as individuals or minority social groups isolated
and located inside, living in a permanent state of cultural and social
segregation, based on their own collective identity of ethnic origin. Thus the
insertion does not concern necessarily their definitive social integration. It
leaves open the entire process, reversible, with an encouragement towards the
opposite direction, including the possibility of an eventual rejection of
immigrants from the entire social frame.
Inversely, integration signifies a social process much longer and deeper. It
implies first of all the inclusion of foreigners in the social structures of their
receiving country, considered already as a constitutive part of the local society.
In the framework of the integration process individuals maintain however their
differences and cultural particularities. They are not considered any more as a
foreign corps and isolated in the ensemble of general social structures. Their
inclusion is a definitive deduction. This requires a common effort to observe
the diversity in the context of the creation of a common cultural policy.
The authors of the last report consecrated to the policies of integration,
presented to the French Prime Minister affirm: Integration is not assimilation:
it is not intended to reduce all differences. Integration is not insertion: it is not
limited to aid individuals to reach satisfactory socio-economic standardsBut
integration is neither a simple moral process in deed of charity, it requires a
mutual effort, an openness to diversity, which is an enrichment and also an
adhesion and a responsible will to guarantee and build a common democratic
structure.2
2. Social changes
The conceptual cultural and social evolution, that France has experienced
during the three last decades, in relation to the recognition of cultural diversity

See: Le Bilan de la politique dintgration (2002 2005), Rapport au Premier Ministre, La Documentation
Franaise, p. 22, Paris 2006

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of its citizens, has turned out due to diverse new historic circumstances, which
did not exist in the past.
To be mentioned here is the fact that in the beginning of the 80s the entire
world understood that immigrants, foreign workers, invited temporarily to
France as wage earners, in fact have been installed on the French soil
permanently. The majority of them were immigrants from Maghreb, coming
from former French colonies. They worked in difficult sites and sectors of the
national economy and had not a desire to go back to their countries of origin.
Furthermore, through operations of family regrouping, marriages, etc., they
created their families in France. The children born during 60s and 70s were
already considered French. They have been schooled in France. They
considered France as their own country by gradually adopting not only local
customs, but also by appropriating deeply all the richness of the French
language. From that moment the issue of cultural diversity in France started to
be viewed differently. Thus the nation found itself encountering a difficult
question to resolve. The second generation of immigrants wanted at the same
time to preserve the cultural identity of their parents by claiming their rights to
the cultural difference, and felt also proud to belong to the citizenship of the
French nation. There were at the same time two statuses, considered
previously as contradictory: equality in citizenship by law and a full
recognition of cultural diversity affecting a not so insignificant part of citizens.
The previous concept of republican assimilation was not a sufficient policy
tool to respond in a satisfactory way to new problems.
After thirty glorious years marked by a great economic and social
development characterizing the period following the Second World War, the
economic crisis arrived in France with its social and financial difficulties. The
unemployment stroke a part of the working force in the labour market. The
former immigrant workers, once considered as indispensable for the good
functioning of national economy, were now more and more seen as a
concurrent factor on the professional plan. A part of the French public opinion
began to become very sensitive regarding their presence on the national soil,
considering them not only as elements producing an aggravation to the issue
of unemployment, but also as an eventual risk for the protection of the national
identity, of social cohesion and of preservation of the French culture.
Beginning from the year 1984 there emerged on the public national scene
the National Front. This political party of extreme right unfolded a xenophobic
political platform and became the point of gathering by this party the French
public opinion that considered the immigrants, especially those of Maghrebian
ethnic and cultural origin, as a threat to the national cultural identity. Social
behaviours animated by prejudged racists considered individuals of foreign
origin as incompatible with the values of the Republic, finding a not
insignificant space in the public opinion. From this point of view, the concept
of cultural diversity was considered by political and social xenophobic
environments as completely unacceptable and harmful for the national
interests. This was connected almost naturally with a trend of withdrawal in
the areas of their living, manifested by families and individuals coming from
immigration. A feeling of failure in the process of integration characterized the
spirit of the new generation coming from families of immigrants, regardless
the fact that they are naturalized French citizens. Xenophobia and

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communitarian retreat became complementary to collective or individual


behaviour.
The process of European construction has influenced in a contradictory
way the collective conscience of citizens. On one hand it facilitates a quite
significant opening of the mind toward the European context, accompanied by
a more tolerant logic regarding the consideration of the cultural diversity of
nations composing the common European space. On the other hand, the facts
noted during the refusal by the French of the draft of the European
Constitution, the fluidity of borders in the framework of the European context
of labour market, have nourished collective fears and scares regarding
eventual tides of foreign workers coming to the national territory.
The French society, from the year 2000 in particular, has to face a new
social and cultural challenge unbalancing the public order especially in several
centres of urban periphery of Paris. A kind of a sentiment of social frustration
pushes young people confronted with the forces of order towards acts of
destructive violence against public property, private roadside property, setting
fire to cars and against buildings of the public service institutions. Such a
situation of disturbance repeated many times requires the improvement of
integration practices implemented already and a more realistic evaluation of
the conjuncture of achievements and failings of the social model of cultural
integration. Furthermore, this has imposed an effort by the public authorities to
find new answers to undertake more appropriate practical steps for social
cohesion, for recognition of cultural diversity in the framework of
implementation of laws of the Republic.

3. Characteristics of the French model of integration


The French model of integration of cultural diversity manifests some specific
characteristics making it very particular in its internal functioning. It is
undoubtedly different compared to various models of the Anglo-Saxon world.
This model performs as a whole system, with its own advantages and
achievements, but also with its own problems, malfunctioning and limitations.
Finally, it should be admitted that neither in relation to the integration plan of
cultural differences, nor in relation to any other level, a particular social
system cannot be perfect. Besides, one should be comprehensible only
regarding bias towards its own local particularities, resulting in a long national
history and contemporary social conjunctures during its realisation.
For all the difficulties accompanying the process of social and cultural
integration, it should be recognized that France remains however a country
that amply receives foreign persons coming to the French soil, following
different ways of access: temporary workers, persons benefiting from the law
allowing family union of immigrants, persons asking for political asylum,
foreign students desiring to follow their university studies in France, etc.
France remains the first country receiving requests for political asylum being
ahead of the United States, Germany, Great Britain and Austria. In 2004
OFPRA has registered 65.000 requests for conventional asylum. 3

See: Le Bilan de la politique dintgration (2002 2005), Rapport au Premier Ministre, La Documentation
Franaise, p. 7, Paris 2006
3

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Different statistical French sources confirm that the number of French


citizens of foreign origin is very high. Some sources affirm that one in four
French citizens belong to that social category. This confirms in a considerable
way the internal conviction of many French politicians considering the French
model of cultural integration a definite success, in spite of its casual faults.
The range of administrative statuses provided to such individuals is
relatively large, including the issue of short stay visas in France (studies,
temporary work, etc.), residence permit for ten years, long stay visas for
family reasons and, under precise conditions provision of naturalisation
concluding a process of recognition of the foreigner requesting naturalisation,
as a French citizen with full rights. In the framework of French model of
cultural integration, the naturalisation represents an important way of access in
the local society.
Evidently it is a process which is neither considered as automatic, nor as
founded on any civic or constitutional law. It is initialized by the very person
who requests naturalisation, and the request may be refused by the
administration. It can conclude in a positive result provided certain conditions,
thoroughly studied by functionaries of state administration, are met. It is
required that the person who applies for naturalisation should fulfil different
conditions provided that such a person can sufficiently be integrated in the
world of French cultural values. The person is not asked to abandon his own
cultural particularities based on national, ethnic or racial origin. This is
considered as persons richness and eventually an individual contribution to
the cultural enrichment of the French nation. On the other hand that person is
asked to reach an effective access in the national culture indicated by a number
of elements attesting the gradual rapprochement to the ensemble of its values.
In a circular issued by the French administration charged with the question
of there are clearly defined conditions in which such a process may eventually
reach a positive answer. It is affirmed that: The appreciation of the
assimilation of a foreigner is based on an ensemble of elements, first of all by
the level of knowledge of the French language, as well as the participation in
the social life. On the contrary, certain behaviours, such as exclusive
frequentation of foreigners or strict observation of practices strongly opposed
by French, may prevent assimilation (Circular DPM, no. 9509, of 27/04/
1995)4 Thus, it is clearly pronounced that among the criteria fundamentally
leading to the administrative examination of the file, the one about the
knowledge of French language and that of the adoption of customs and moral
values of French (observation of secularism of the public space and of
monogamy in conjugal relationships in particular) are the most important
criteria. Nevertheless, as clearly confirmed by a good number of French
researchers, in the daily administrative practice, the criterion related the
professional integration of the applicant for naturalisation, becomes an
unavoidable element largely determining the result of the administrative
process in question.
Another characteristic of the French model of cultural integration relates to
the fact that in this case the difficulties and inequalities experienced by
immigrants are taken into consideration but indirectly, trying to correct and
make them less important by bias of a re-distributive policy aiming
4

See: Les thories de lintgration, lHarmattan, Paris 2000

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exclusively the reduction of social inequalities as such. Social and economic


inequalities of individuals in the French territory are taken into consideration,
avoiding their identification in relation to their national origin, race or culture.
In the prospect of this approach, speaking from the administrative point of
view, social and economic inequalities are not linked with specific conditions
of immigrants. Distributive policies see the citizen in the image of republican
universalism and do not consider the individual as a person with a particular
cultural identity. Their beneficiaries, saying it roughly, have not been chosen
because they are black, but because they are poor.5 It is rather a policy of
social solidarity, the founder of republican values, looking for the preservation
of the national community beyond social inequalities and economic disparities
created among individuals and different regions of the French territory. This
policy, founder of the social dimension of the French economic, political and
social model is based on the idea that only practices of disadvantaged groups
of the society may correct different inequalities created by the market. Not to
be linked with the service of the market (positive discrimination by the French
concept) is expression of a persistent scepticism regarding its capacities to
make a just society6. This dimension responds to a republican wish to ensure
equal chances to all the citizens, regardless their different economic status.
Family allowances, RMI, construction of social buildings, etc., represent
administrative practices aimed at responding to difficulties of people in need
and to reduce social consequences of the economic poverty.
Obviously, it is accepted implicitly that social measures go equally to the
benefit of immigrants, persons of foreign national origin and persons coming
from second or third generation of immigrant families. It is among these
groups that one can find, generally speaking, economic situations that,
according to different official indicators, witness of a tenuousness and poverty
that affect all the members of the family.
In this legal and empiric framework, the model of integration of cultural
diversities in France observes some fundamental principles, shared by the
majority of national public opinion.
Efforts are made to help and support in a positive way persons considered
as universal individuals, abstracted from their cultural identity. Consequently,
allowances and aids are distributed only according to social and economic
status of the interested person.
It is not the vocation of this policy to address identified social groups. It
addresses only individuals and members of their own family.
Having the profile of a positive action designed to support disadvantaged
groups of population, it does not support the promotion of representative elites
of different social groups of a foreign cultural identity. The social
orientation of French policies put them on the antipodes of the policies of
adjustment between unequal groups, which are essentially elitist policies.7
Furthermore, in some cases, for instance, regarding a policy of quotas,
reduced considerably in fact (the case of the Foundation of the Political
Sciences, which from 2001 accepts, according to strictly defined criteria and in
a limited number, young people coming from schools placed in ZEP) or
regarding a policy of hidden quotas, the model of French integration does not
See: Discrimination Positive, Pouvoir , N111, p. 32
See: Discrimination Positive, Pouvoir , N111, p. 39
7See : Discrimination Positive, Pouvoir , N111, p. 35
5

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intend to create an equal starting basis for all individuals engaged in a personal
project of research for a successful professional carrier. It tends simply but to
modify the definitive result of individual efforts undertaken in the labour
market. Thus, its function is not to re-define conditions of start of individual
processional targets. It acts not in the beginning but at the end of the process
of selection of individuals according to their own personal merits.
This model of integration of cultural diversities in all cases remains
extremely attentive in the secular nature of public space. It reduces the
expression of religious differences in the interior of private and social space
(common space) where citizens live and act preserving the political space
coming from the universe of collective expressions of religious diversities. By
observing this principle the state and local collectivities make significant
financial efforts to sponsor sportive, cultural, associate, artistic, activities,
manifesting different cultural identities. This contributes to enrich the cultural
heritage of the French nation and support the free expression of identity
diversities included in the national cultural space.
The policy of looking for integration of cultural diversities in the
framework of the nations republican unity is based too on a permanent and
volunteer project for management of the state territory.
From the 80es the state built a multidimensional strategy for development
of urban spaces manifesting deep inequalities in relation to the rest of regional
or national territory. Following this volunteer step an urban policy is
developed to allow the gradual improvement of life conditions and urbanism
of inhabitants living in relatively poor quarters and cities. These urban areas
can not mobilize sufficient resources to ensure a normal social and cultural life
for inhabitants because of the lack of specialised institutions in the concerned
fields. They suffer a relatively high level of unemployment because as it is
easily noticed - of the lack of enterprises and private investments in their
territory. Their level of hygiene is also problematic, followed by an
infrastructure which does not always respond to national standards. Frequently
these urban areas present also spaces where the level of public security is in a
level not quite satisfactory.
The policy of the city considers that the destiny of those urban areas
strongly depends on the state of advancement of the process of integration of
the population residing there. Everybody knows that from the point of view of
demography we have to do with urban peripheries inhabited by families
coming from immigration. By supporting these urban spaces with funds of
public investments, encouraging their town halls and communes towards a
policy of construction of social houses proposing relatively low tariffs for
locations, by creating free urban zones, tax exempted, by strengthening the
public order installing services of police of proximity, etc. the state aims to
reduce spatial and territorial inequalities between rich and developed areas of
cities and those with a poorer social and economic status, inhabited in general
by populations presenting specifities of cultural and national origin.
So the policy of the city includes two principal objectives: First, to fight
against ghettoization of poor inhabitants or those of foreign cultural origin.
And, second, avoid or reduce terrific inequalities between centres of the city
and their urban peripheries.
Regrouping all principal practices followed in France, which have made
possible the implementation of a policy of respect in relation to cultural

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diversities and a process of republican integration of individuals with foreign


cultural belonging, the High Council of Integration affirms in its report: The
positive action which allows to reinstate equality of growing chances has
already an old tradition in social policies. The creation of Zones of Priority
Education (ZEP) (1981), creation of open urban zones in 1996, the study
contracts for young people under 26 or, even earlier, policies of territory
planning, policies of reduction of taxes are always part of our tradition of our
social policy of equality. This has made possible to undertake positive actions
for restoration of equality of chances, not on the basis of ethnic criteria, but on
the basis of territorial and socio-economic criteria.8
4. Limits of the model
The French model of integration of cultural diversity in common space of the
nation recognizes both strong points, based on a collective concern of social
cohesion and, fundamental difficulties brought to light by political discussions
and scientific researches made during ongoing years.
How are the limits of the model enunciated?
An appropriate answer obviously should take into consideration not only
empiric gaps observable on the concrete plan of everyday reality, but it should
be admitted also the idea that it is out of question to speak of a perfect and
harmonious social model in this field. Everywhere in todays world the
question of multiculturalism and practices for its implementation have created
endless debates and conflicts, without reaching a definitive outcome or a
durable political and intellectual consensus.
The French researchers have mentioned the essential difficulties that the
society tries to overcome in its evolution toward a conjuncture that undertakes
the duty of integration of immigrants by observing both the cultural
differences coming from their different ethnic origins and republican
principles of the construction of a common public space.
The level of success of children coming from social environments of
foreign origin is still low. They face a lot of difficulties in the process of
learning the French language, which is reflected then through all their studies.
Being on half way between the open society founded on moral and cultural
values autochthones and their confining family environment, characterized by
norms and beliefs often incompatible with the dominant social model, children
and youth immigrant families sometimes are facing very painful dilemmas,
producing virulent frustrations in their intimate life and choices of life.
Despite the efforts made by policies of regulation of territory and primary
urbanisation, social and spatial segregation represent a not insignificant fact
that isolate social groups of immigrants from the society at large. Closed
sometimes within the areas of urban periphery, young people of foreign
cultural origin frequently express behaviours and sentiments based on
practices of rejection of republican values and democratic political norms and
individual rights provided for in the constitutional framework in power. A
certain number of administrative practices and financial strategies followed by
the private sector, in particular the one dealing with real estate, push persons
from immigration to the isolated urban areas, considered frequently as spaces
88

See : : Le Bilan de la politique dintgration (2002 2005), Rapport au Premier Ministre, La


Documentation Franaise, p.75, Paris 2006

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lacking economic, cultural and social conditions to ensure normal individual,


family and collective life. The access of these people to hiring, to an education
system of very good quality, to buildings with good reputation is very poor.
The material means to allow them a permanent attachment to their own culture
are frequently insufficient. Collective obliviousness affects the fundamental
elements of their cultural heritage. As the researcher Michel Wieviorka has
underlined: One can recall also that racism with blind windows is a reality in
a number of public services or assimilables, a reality that often amplifies what
happens behind windows, in the functioning of administration where they treat
differently the French of stock; or even those just of European origin and
persons by name or appearance immigrants.9
Many French researchers working in the field of issues on multiculturalism
believe that the Anglo-Saxon model of multiculturalism represent also
insurmountable limits, manifested in the daily life of nations. The
communautarism, in this prospect of political and intellectual approach risk to
weaken considerably political links between citizens and dissolve the cohesion
of the ensemble of nationals of the state. There may be expected hatred and
rivalry, passing from a latent rivality between ethnic groups composing a
society and further an eventual explosion of the entire social corps. The
project of certain communautaristes to organize a society composed of
pacific communities, cordial juxtaposition persons, without any political
dimension, it seams to me says one of the best French researchers in the
field, Dominique Schnapper, another form of utopia, equally dangerous.10
Quite developed is also the idea according to which multiculturalism,
trying to leave more room to collective cultural differences within the public
sphere, in comparison with the French model, just dissimulates an
assimilationist policy since that is also based on a project of cultural and
administrative unity around the official language of the receiving country.
Some ethnic communities manage to preserve in an average level their
particular cultural identities, while others live in social and political conditions
where everything is rejected openly or implicitly and they are deprived of a
real status of a citizens dignity. This has been expressed by another prominent
French researcher, Emmanuel Todd. According to him: England assimilates
under voile multicultural, less efficiently in the case of Pakistan and making
suffer its Antilles, like France its Maghrb. LAllemagne selects former
Yugoslavs as assimilables and Turks as a minority destined to segregation. 11

See: Les thories de lintgration, lHarmattan, p. 181, Paris 2000


See: Les thories de lintgration, lHarmattan, p. 249, Paris 2000
11 See : Les thories de lintgration, lHarmattan, p. 209, Paris 2000
10

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