The far right is always in the business of pedalling myths about immigration, and the French Front National (FN) are old hands at the game. In this presidential election campaign, FN candidate Marine Le Pen (daugher of veteran fascist Jean-Marie) has been pushing – without much contradiction it has to be said – the line that France is particularly susceptible to mass immigration. Indeed, on TV on 19 March, she went as far as to claim that ‘France is the country which accepts the most immigration in the whole of Europe’.
Nicholas Sarkozy, playing the part of Le Pen’s little echo (as so often in this campaign), joined in, talking about an ‘uncontrollable wave of immigration’ and promising to end France’s participation in the EU ‘open-borders’ Schengen agreement. The president’s aide, Patrick Buisson, chose to echo Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, muttering darkly about a ‘flood of migration’ swamping France.
This canard barely even qualifies as a myth, it’s so wide of the mark. Figures produced by the OECD and published in Liberation on 28 March, show that, compared to most other European countries, France gives immigrants the cold shoulder. In 2009 (the latest year for which figures are available) there were 178,700 immigrants entering France, way behind Germany (197,500), Spain (334,000), Italy (369,000) and the UK, which welcomed more than twice as many migrants as France, with 397,000.
More relevant figures are those showing immigration as a proportion of population, which, at 0.3%, put France at just half the OECD average in 2009. Small countries like Portugal and Holland, despite few significant colonial links, admitted 0.55%, while for Britain and Italy the figure reached 0.6%. But it’s Denmark, Spain and Sweden which are most open to immigration, with admissions amounting to between 0.7 and 0.8% in 2009.
Hardly a flood, more of a trickle. And it’s not as if France is choc full of foreigners in the first place, despite Le Pen’s silly claims about people being forced to eat Halal meat and Sarkozy’s assertion that there are ‘too many foreigners in France’. Only 8.5% of France’s population are classified by the OECD as immigrants, making France one of western Europe’s least multicultural societies. By contrast, the OECD found that immigrants accounted for more than 11% of the population in Holland and the UK, 13% in Germany, and more than 14% in Spain and Sweden.
Une poignée de bollocks, then, but Le Pen and the FN have never been ones to let the truth get in the way of a good scare story.