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June 1999, Volume 6, Number 6

France: National Front

Charles De Gaulle, grandson of the ex-French president, is running with Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front, for a seat in the European Parliament in the June 13 election. A letter from 57 of the general's descendants asked him not to affiliate with the National Front because it insults the memory of his grandfather.

On May 11, a Paris court ruled that the name and symbols of the National Front were the rightful property of founder Le Pen, and not of his former successor turned rival, Bruno Megret; this means that Le Pen will get the FF41 million in annual government subsidies to the National Front. The split between Le Pen and Megret is expected to reduce support for the National Front, which won 15 percent of the vote in 1997, making it France's third-largest party. Surveys predict that Le Pen will get only six percent of the vote and Megret three percent in June 1999.

Most of the immigrants in France today arrived between 1962 and 1974, when assembly-line industries recruited millions of guest workers to work in factories and live in suburbs surrounding large French cities. These guest workers were probationary immigrants, and acquired more rights with each work and residence permit renewal.

In 1974, the recruitment of non-EU nationals was stopped, and many French leaders, including former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, believed that non-European (North African) guest workers could be repatriated. This took concrete form in an early 1980s program that paid departure bonuses to induce thousands of settled migrants to leave. France in 1981-1983 also legalized 132,000 foreigners and made efforts to limit further illegal immigration.

The debate over whether to repatriate or integrate foreigners continued during the 1980s, and provided an opportunity for the National Front, which advocated repatriation of non-European foreigners, to field candidates in local elections in 1983. Jean-Marie Le Pen ran for mayor of Paris, and the National Front received 17 percent of the vote in Dreux, a Paris suburb.

Successive governments have asserted that immigration had been stopped, meaning that no new unskilled guest workers were being admitted, but continued legal family unification and illegal immigration, combined with the concentration of foreigners in the Paris area, made it easy for the National Front to argue that the government was not telling the truth about immigration. In 1993, Interior Minister Pasqua announced a zero immigration policy, to be achieved by limiting family unification as well as restricting the entry of nonimmigrants who could become illegal migrants. However, immigration fell only slightly--legal immigration was 83,000 in 1994, 68,000 in 1995, and 74,000 in 1996.

In the May 1995 elections, Le Pen received 15 percent of the vote, and the National Front elected mayors in the cities of Orange, Marignane and Toulon. The Socialists, currently in power, advocated the right of immigrants to vote, and called for new laws to fight racism, thereby appealing to those sympathetic to immigrants.

In an effort to create more jobs, the French government in May 1999 exempted from social security taxes workers who earn up to 1.8 times the minimum wage.

Deborah Seward, "De Gaulle's Grandson Shifts to Right," AP, May 23, 1999. Claire Rosemberg, "Le Pen wins battle over dissidents but party is in tatters," Agence France Presse, May 12, 1999.