In the French Department of Seine-Saint-Denis, there are more nationalities than there are members of the UN. In Sevran, the city of which I am Mayor, there are 73 nationalities from the 4 corners of the world. I use these figures in order to demonstrate that, in our countries, the issue of migration is one that is constant, both historically and economically. The issue of immigration and immigrant rights (rights in the widest sense), or lack thereof, does not solely concern Europeans. There is a veritable migratory history from which the continuity of society is built. It is very clear that France has changed, not solely due to various political powers but also and primarily due to its historic social evolutions and the transformation of the French population since the Second World War.
An issue that constantly evolves
France is historically a land of migration, a land of invasions as Foucault said, a land of regional confrontations. This is precisely why French nationality is political and not an ethnic, jus soli applies. The French Republic is ‘one and indivisible’, an act of political faith, almost a religion. In order to hold French nationality despite our diversity, I would even say against our diversity, the Jacobinism that we inherit – wilfully or otherwise, is a permanent threat to the liberty of cultures and minorities. Each new wave of immigration re-launches the debate on political nationality and, due to the rigidity of the current system; the legitimacy of immigrants being part of a societal movement is brought into question. Today it’s the Romani people; yesterday it was West Africans, before that it was North Africans, Italians… not to mention the sensitive Algerian issue.
All of these stages in our history represent an opportunity for confrontation between ethnicity and citizenry to reappear, which means that no problem is ever really resolved.
From national to European
As for intra-European migrants, there have been two waves of immigration: the old wave (Polish, Italian…) and a more recent wave (a result of the Balkans war and Romani people). Populations from older waves of immigration are often considered as being well integrated and stakeholders of local dynamics. They also have a form of political inclusion through participation in local and European elections, which is fundamental to feeling integrated in a country. Other questions are being raised regarding the recent wave of European immigration. For the Romani people from Romania, the issue of Romania’s real integration into the EU is pertinent. This precise question regarding Romani people illustrates that immigration cannot be managed state by state and that a European policy needs to be implemented. Today’s challenge is being able to think beyond the national level and territorial egoisms and to turn more towards a European and cosmopolitan vision.
The movements of the far-right that are part of the current debate, including the French National Front in France, are an expression of the continuity of the regret of a multicultural France, which has never truly existed. Jacobinism is the perpetuation of the illusion of a multicultural nation.
Equality – an absolute requirement
However, Europe brings Jacobinism directly into question, which is fundamental because otherwise there will be a retreat into nationalism and then we will have Marine Le Pen at the top of a coalition government with a significant proportion of the republican right. Therefore, I am absolutely convinced that Europeans in France must enjoy the same rights as French people. It is an historical requirement for spreading democracy and breaking with nationalist movements, which have burned and bloodied our continent and the world, in order to promote European citizenship. However, steps must be on both sides.
I found the Polish Plumber controversy at the time of the Bolkenstein directive in 2005 – which was a true provocation – to be scandalous. In addition to the post-democratic management of Europe by the European Commission, there is a social and legal defence of sovereignty that is an obstacle to European integration. There must be a top-down harmonisation of rights but each Member State must make steps forwards. There must be mutual recognition in this global world where nation-states no longer mediate.
Youth is a good example of what should be done because a sizeable proportion travels throughout Europe for leisure, study or work. The question is not whether everyone should have the same rights but rather how we can build common rights for everyone in the EU.
The vision is assimilation
Should we hold on to the idea of integration whereby we expect the ‘outsider’ to adapt to the rule of local life or should we work towards a new way of seeing integration, for example co-integration, which consists in the common integration of two parties? Actually, in our country, the vision for immigration is assimilation.
Anyone who arrives with his/her history, philosophy, and culture must strip himself or herself of that. We want to dissolve the culture of the immigrant into the national culture without understanding that democratic society is above all about what we have in common and that each new culture is an essential contribution to common culture. In France the dominating vision is assimilation; it is a way of saying to immigrants that they have to forget their cultural heritage in order to become the grandchildren of Hugues le Grand.
This assimilationist vision, which dates back to the French First Republic – even if its roots stem back to before the French Revolution, is the national-republican basis of a combined people. It is a vision that is disconnected from today’s society, from its urbanity, from its heterogeneity and its cosmopolitanism. We live in a time where this supposedly comprehensivist, centralist vision, which – for the most part – masks the poorly accepted heritage of colonisation, is opposing the current world and its changes. As it refuses to break with Jacobinism, France is marginalising itself and delving into the unknown of unacknowledged separations. We need to carry out our cultural revolution in order to play our role in the global movement.
A Republic that must adapt to society
Republican integration does not work and has undoubtedly only ever worked one-way. We always accuse schools of not doing their part when it comes to integration and teachers of no longer being the hussards noirs of the Republic. However, we never ask ourselves whether the Republic is adapted to the society that it is supposed to organise and protect. If we look at Polish or Italian immigration, it took decades for assimilation to happen. There were ethnic confrontations, wars, and populations were sent back to their home countries, as with the Polish miners in the 1930s.
Today, how can assimilation happen whilst everyone is denying community? I am not talking about defending communitarianism; I am talking about the cultural and religious reality of our countries. Confrontation between the Republican state and the Catholic Church is out-dated. Today, Muslims make up the country’s second biggest religion therefore secularism is quite a different matter. It is no longer a question of fighting against a church that was the centrepiece of society in order to push it back into the private space but rather bringing together a, now multicultural, society. We must overcome the conflicts generated by open society through democracy and that cannot be done at the national level.
In order to move forward, we must understand that it is necessary to build a federal Europe, a continuous and decentralised democracy. I am therefore campaigning for a policy that is not assimilationist but cosmopolitan, built upon the recognition of each person’s path, cultural diversity… a cosmopolitan integration policy that takes into account these histories, these characteristics. That does not mean an all-out submissive Europe, which means a Europe that chooses its history; that ceases to suffer in the name of the economic reality, or xenophobia, or do-gooderism.
What about globalisation?
But what about migrants coming from countries outside of the EU? This requires a discussion about globalisation. The Berlin Conference in 1885 and the First World War marked the end of the first era of globalisation. A parenthesis was opened that produced two world wars, the Holocaust and many other massacres. The horror of the 20th century was only possible from this combination of extreme imperial competition and the frustration of nationalism. It was only possible because western domination, far from making peace and civilisation, fuelled mass war, which, in turn, fuelled mass destruction.
The parenthesis was closed with the fall of the Berlin wall. Globalisation resumed. We can deplore it, criticise it, even fight against it but it doesn’t change anything anthropological that seeks the globalisation of human relations as the essence of our movement.
Growing environmental migration
Therefore the issue of migration from countries outside of the EU is an integral part of this movement. This type of migration is essential. It is important to remember that the majority of migrations are not from north to south but from south to south. Europeans are too focussed on themselves. They consider themselves under attack but the reality is quite different. There is a new vision of internationalism, particularly given that with economic and political migration comes environmental migration. Are we going to refuse environmental refuge to victims of the global warming phenomenon of which we are the main architects?
Our colonial ghosts
Europe, Great Britain included, has a problem: its former domination of the world, the regret of its past splendour. It sees immigration from the south as weakening, as a sort of revenge from history. We invaded them, now they are invading us. They are colonial ghosts. That does not mean that Europe must welcome everyone. It means that cosmopolitanism, which no one can really deny, must be at the heart of migratory policies. It must contribute to creating continental poles of democratic, economic, environmental and social stability that enables everyone to choose their path, to choose to stay in their country or to leave it and not be constrained, as is the case today.
The need for a new renaissance
Take a look at the young people of Europe; they are moving around more and more. This includes Sevran; the youth from council estates are leaving our country to work abroad. Therefore Europe must bring itself up to speed, in order to become appealing again and develop a welcome policy on all fronts, whether it be academic, economic, environmental, societal, cultural, sportive… A sort of new Renaissance is needed.
From an environmental point of view, these poles of stability are fundamental because they encourage local autonomy over subjection to the whim of productivist work managed by globalised multinationals that trade and exhaust all resources whether they are human, cultural or natural. Migrants must become eco-citizens of the world, welcomed, respected and accepted as contributors and co-producers of the host society.
 A nickname used for primary school teachers under the French Third Republic