Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Merah killings raise tough questions for France about integration

The killings in Toulouse last week Wednesday by Mohamed Merah, 23, described as “polite and shy” by neighbours, but who then went on to become radicalised in Afghanistan, once again raises the issue of integration and immigration in France.


Merah seemed like an ordinary, young guy who liked clubbing, football and cars – yet went on to to become one of France’s notorious killers.
Merah’s irreprehensible actions, the worst terror France has seen in 15 years, were deliberately targeted: four soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi were murdered by Merah.
A man claiming to be Merah called the popular news station France 24 whilst being held at ransom within his apartment at 1am on Wednesday March 21st and said his actions were directed against France’s military presence in Afghanistan, the killing of Palestinians and the ban on wearing the full face veil, although it would seem such extreme actions would have a deeper agenda, with others also responsible, especially as Merah stated he was working with a group allied to al-Qa’eda.
Once again he was described as articulate and polite by the senior news editor, Ebba Kalondo.
The shootings have once again brought race and immigration issues to the fore. Nicolas Sarkozy, along with other major presidential candidates, rightly suspended their campaigns. Now back on the campaign trial, with one month till polling day, Sarkozy looks tougher on policing and security – his strongest areas – and his lead against Socialist rival Fran├žois Hollande has narrowed since the incident.
Sarkozy pledged to introduce new legislation to make it a crime to look at websites encouraging terrorism and to travel specifically for the purposes of terrorism training. This shooting may remind French citizens of an incident that happened in 1993, where Sarkozy, as Mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, dealt with an assailant, who took children hostage in a nursery and led a number of children out after successfully negotiating their release.
The next few weeks will reveal how the Front National will further seek to exploit the actions of Merah; they will likely say this proves their claim that immigration is dangerous for France.
Marine Le Pen claimed:
“The risk of fundamentalism has been under-estimated in our country.”
With Sarkozy promptly hitting back by saying the attack on French institutions and politics was unfair.

Terrorist acts are rare, but a real threat to the national security of France. Merah, when speaking to France 24, said it was only the beginning. It is unlikely the major presidential candidates will choose to use this tragedy for political gain, however a growing security dilemma faces them and it will take skill and wit to come up with a comprehensive answer of how to face it.

This article was published on the blog Left Foot Forward

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The French Presidential race heats up

The results of new opinion polls revealed today show that Hollande may not have such an easy ride in becoming president of France.  Sarkozy is set to take the lead in the first round 28.5% to Hollande’s 27%, leading to a run off in the second round.  This comes on the back of Sarkozy’s largest rally last week, where he pledged to halve the number of immigrants and re-negotiate France participation in the Schengen accord.  This seems to have struck a chord with the French electorate.

France is still tipped to have a socialist president with Hollande winning in the run off.  Hollande is currently pledging increased spending and raising the top rate of tax to 45%.  Sarkozy has followed Hollande stance with promising to target tax exiles who leave France to specifically to avoid their tax regime.

All this comes from Le Pen’s confirmation on Tuesday that she will now be an official presidential candidate for Front National, gaining the 500 signatories needed.  There was speculation that she might not have gained the 500 signatures needed to stand as a candidate, which comprise of elected officials as they had to openly declare their names, before the deadline this Friday.  If Le Pen had not gained the signatures, her voters may have swung to Sarkozy, giving him an even wider lead.  Le Pen currently has 16% of the vote, which has been falling consistently over the Past few weeks.  Le Pen stated that “From today onwards, millions of citizens are feeling hopeful again…now they have someone that represents them in the election”.  Let’s hope they feel hopeful of a Socialist victory.

This article was also published on left foot forward.  Click here

Sarkozy lurches further to the right

Sarkozy last week during one of his biggest campaign rallies and with 42 days until the election Sarkozy gave more clear anti-immigration rhetoric, which could be a bid to appease potential Front National voters by calling for the greater protection of French borders.  This would include the proposal of removing France from the Schengen accord, which 27 member states operate, unless tighter controls by the EU on illegal immigrants could be imposed.  Le Pen, who is anti-immigrant and anti-EU, has stated that Sarkozy is simply copying her policies, one of them being to withdraw from the schengen accord.   Sarkozy went onto say that if elected he would halve immigration from 180,000 to 100,000 per year as well as make the process of obtaining naturalisation much tighter, which would in turn help immigrants integrate better into French society.  Holande’s team have criticised the announcement which seems to be in response to the rising popularity of the Front National and set to become a central campaign theme over the coming weeks.

 Sarkozy also stated that the European way of life should be defended by way of protectionist policies whereby companies working on national projects could only use products made within the EU, even though this may be breech of EU fair competition rules.  Sarkozy closed his speech re-emphasising the ban on the public wearing of the niqap which he said were “contrary to the values of the Republic.” Sarkozy is currently ahead of Le Pen but behind Hollande, the favourite to win the French presidential elections.

This article was also published on the left foot forward website Click here

The continuing gender gap

On the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day, the EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding hesitantly stated that EU wide legislation could soon come into play to force companies and boards to take on more women in board and other key roles.  The current state of play is that across the EU, omen make up only 13.7% of top company roles, which is a net 1.9% increase since 2010. Whilst at the top, women earn less than men doing similar roles, in the UK 9% less.  If things continue at the present rate it would take more than 40 years for women to reach 40% of the top roles.  Further to this there is a 22% EU wide gender pay gap between men and women’s earnings. This with women making up 60% of all graduates across the EU, qualified but not rising to the top.

Are quotas the right way to address this issue?  Mary Honeyball MEP stated on the BBC Programme ‘The record Europe’ that “quotas are the only way” forward.  I tend to agree.  Voluntary measures have been talked about for the past 20 years with no sustainable results and only 24 companies across the EU have currently signed up to the ‘women on the board pledge for Europe’ to increase women in the boardroom.   This pledge makes a public commitment by companies to increase female representation on their boards to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020. Self regulation does not seem to be working fast enough.  Many EU counties such as France, Belgium and Spain and non-EU counties such as Norway have introduced quotas which have seen the number of women on boards increase.  Recent polls commissioned by Reding found that ¾ of respondents were in favour of quotas.  My experience as an equality and diversity manager in the NHS has shown me that instituting quotas does not mean that companies will not get the best person for the job.  Rather it will result in more talented and qualified women putting themselves forward for the top roles and companies benefitting from greater diversity of ideas, innovation and skills.

At the moment the European Commission is holding a public consultation into the matter which ends on the 28th May 2012.  As many individuals and companies should contribute as possible, so that any legislation that does occur following this, is representative of w wide range of views.