Events in Paris suburbs/Iraq/Iran
Interview of Prime minister Dominique de Villepin by Christiane Amanpour (CNN) - Paris, November 29, 2005
Christiane AMANPOUR : Firstly, thank you very much for joining us Mr. prime minister, would you accept that France has a very serious social malaise, a very serious social problem that requires dramatic solutions, actions?
Prime Minister Dominique de VILLEPIN : Yes, indeed. Important and severe social unrest; we have had more than 9,000 cars that were burned. We had approximately 130 policemen that were injured and approximately 100 of public buildings that were damaged during this period, during these two weeks of unrest.
Q - You know, many people, after hurricane Katrina struck the United States said that it exposed the poverty and racism that exist in the United States. Many people in France said that... around the world said it. Many people also said that the riots in the ghettos if you like... in the suburbs...
The Prime minister : I am not sure you can call them riots. It’s very different from the situation you have known in 1992 in L.A. for example. You had at that time 54 people that died, and you had 2,000 people wounded. In France during the 2 weeks period of unrest, nobody died in France. So, I think you can’t compare this social unrest with any kind of riots.
Q - What do you call it then?
The Prime minister : Social unrest, you have to understand also, there were no guns in the streets. No adults; mostly young people between 12 and 20 ... so it is a very special movement.
Q - Many people say that special movement or social unrest is fueled by mass unemployment especially in the youth...
The Prime minister : It’s approximately the double of the rest of the country.
Q - Which is dramatic ...
The Prime minister : Yes, of course.
Q - ...By poverty and by racism ...
The Prime minister : Feeling of discrimination : very often, you have people coming from the second generation of immigration, they don’t know their country of origin. They don’t have the same link with France as their parents who chose to come and work here. So, as Jacques Chirac, the President of the Republic said, there was some kind of a lack of identity.
Q - In terms of Identity, many of them told us, that they are asked to be French in spirit of the republic, but the French government doesn’t love them, doesn’t care about them, doesn’t do enough to make sure that they have equal opportunity in a country that is all about égalité.
The Prime minister : I think we should recognize that we have not made enough during all these years and decades. We need to be conscious of this situation. We have to say that, and it is important to also understand the real nature of these movements, there is no ethnic or religious basis to this movement, as we can see in some other parts of the world. But it is true that the feeling of discrimination, the feeling of maybe not having the same equal chance... but what is interesting, is that most of these young people, they want to be 100 percent French. They want to have equal chances. So, it is really our goal now to answer their demands and to move and to put as a priority a lot more that needs to be done on housing, on education, on employment and this is going to be on the agenda of our government during the next weeks and months.
Q - The majority of these people who are in the banlieues are blacks or of North African origins. And they feel that not only there are no opportunities, but there are no role models for them. There no minorities in your parliament, none in your news organizations,...
The Prime minister : But they don’t want to be recognized.... They don’t want to be recognized as Muslims, or as blacks, or as people coming from North Africa. They want to be recognized as French and they want to have equal opportunity during their lives.
Q - So what do you say then to somebody whose name is Mohammed, who knows that even if he has the best grades from the Sorbonne, his resume, his c.v., will be rejected 5 times more often than somebody who’s called Francois, that’s a fact.
The Prime minister : Well, the first question is to everybody in this country. We have to answer the question and try to solve it. Nobody can accept that. This cannot be a fatality. We want to change this mentality. And already we have seen so many initiatives. Take for example, a lot of companies, French companies that have decided to have a more diverse recruitment in their own companies. So we should change, we have many decisions that have been taken during the last years. As for example, a Curriculum Vitae anonymous which allows the company to choose people without knowing which race or which religion. So I believe that it is a matter of mobilization in the country in order to make sure that discrimination is not going to be accepted. President Chirac has decided to create a high authority against discrimination and for equality. And this authority is going to be able to give sanctions to people who are not going to comply with our Republican rules.
Q - Is that like positive discrimination? Is that affirmative action?
The Prime minister : No, there is a difference between... what we stand for in our republic, which is: equal chances and affirmative action. Affirmative action is mainly aimed in taking into account the race and the religion. In our republic, everybody is equal and we don’t want to take into account the color of the skin or the religion. But we want to take into account the difficulty that one may have. So we want to help the individuals on the basis of their own difficulties. That’s why we are going to have an important program in order to help more this neighborhood that has been facing difficulties in terms of education for example. That means we are going to help all the different schools in these neighborhoods, in order to help all the young people that maybe cannot master as well the French language or do have problems in schools. It means very intense program in order to give them equal chances.
Q - How can you help these people if you do not take into account that they are discriminated against because of their color.
The Prime minister : We are going to triple the scholarships giving to the children. We are going to triple the boarding schools in order to answer to the best students in these different neighborhoods, in order to help them going to university and to have a good career. But the difference between the system you have and the one we have is that we are going to help as well any young children in France facing difficulties but not taking into account the fact he is black or coming from Maghreb or being Muslim. Every one who is having difficulties is going to be taken into account and helped individually.
Q - It was your government that cut quite a lot of money and quite a lot of programs to these areas that we just saw explode in spasm of violence...
The Prime minister : That’s not absolutely true.
Q - There were quite a lot of cuts...
The Prime minister : Well, we spent differently in different programs and we have put the emphasis mainly on housing. We have decided to have a 30 billion program in order to renovate the whole urbanism. One of the big problems in these neighborhood, is that in the sixties and the seventies in order to answer to the crisis of housing, it has been created a lot of high-rise buildings with a lot of people living there in very difficult way. So we have decided to build residence on a smaller scale and we are doing that in a very very fast programs : 18 months between the demolishing of these big buildings and the reconstruction of these new residences. This is of course very expensive programs. What is true is that we have decided to re-allocate a certain amount of money for the social organizations working in these cities.
Q - But some people also said that the labor laws here need to be changed. That because it is so difficult to hire young people... without being able to fire them because of your very strict social and labor laws, that that is a double negative against those people.
The Prime minister : Well, first we want to make a very special effort in direction of the young people of these neighborhoods. That’s why we’ve decided to have our national agency of employment to receive all the young people in these neighborhoods during the next month. In order to either propose either a job, either a training program or an internship. In order to really answer to their demands. We are really willing to take into account that their very specific difficulties and individually to answer these difficulties.
Q - How long do you have to get it right?
The Prime minister : Well, it is an emergency matter. We want to deal with these matters very very fast. I am going to present a full program on Thursday in order to have a better justice, better education in these neighborhoods. So, we are taking this very seriously. We want to have very fast answer, global answers. In order to really comply with our obligations. We are facing, this is the difficulty, problems of very different nature. Problems for example of employment. We want to attract more companies into these neighborhoods. And we have created tax free zones, we want to increase the numbers of these tax free zones in order to have more companies creating jobs but we also want the people of these neighborhoods being able to accept the jobs outside of these neighborhoods, because we need a social mix in order to have a real equilibrium now in our society. So it is a challenge, it is a challenge for these neighborhoods, it is a challenge for the whole French society. And I think it is very important that we succeed in this, because whatever happened in France can happen as well in other countries, in Europe or elsewhere. It is a part of a new phenomenon of globalization. So we need to be successful and I think France has to show that its society has a vitality, has a capacity, has a willingness to make and to deal with the challenge.
Q - France, and you yourself when you were Foreign Minister, was very vocal about the Iraq war. You obviously did not support it and you raised many of the issues that are currently unfolding there right now. What do you think? Do you feel vindicated when you look at what Iraq is going through right now?
The Prime minister : No, I think it is of course a very difficult situation; we have gone a long way to begin to establish democracy in Iraq, but still there is a long way to go. And I think the effort should be important in terms of including all the political forces. After the referendum on the constitution, we are going to have general elections in Iraq on the 15th of December, and I think it is a very important moment in order to try to put together all the political and social forces of the country. We know that there are two risks in Iraq still today. One is the division of Iraq which is of course a nightmare for the region. And the second one is a growing role of terrorism. So I think it is very important for the international community to try to put all these forces together to solve the matter and I think we should support the initiative of the Arab League : try to support a better regroupement, coalition of the different political forces, and also make sure that all the countries of the region work together in order to go forward.
Q - But you can see there is a huge amount of difficulty with that...
The Prime minister : We knew since the beginning that it was very easy to go to war, but very difficult to get out of Iraq, because of the fragility of the country, because of the sensitivity of the situation in this region. So now we have to face the situation as it is, and it is the responsibility of all the international community to help the process, to make sure that we go forward all together.
Q - Do you believe the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops?
The Prime minister : I believe that anything should be done coordinated with the local situation in Iraq and the regional situation. I think that the timetable should be a global timetable. The real timetable is the Iraqi situation. We should avoid at all cost the chaos in Iraq which of course would be disastrous for the whole region.
Q - Iran. France, Britain and Germany have taken the lead in trying to make sure Iran does not get its hands on nuclear weapons. And they have also been very clear in not wanting Iran in engaging in the uranium enrichment cycle, those talks broke off, there is a new Iranian president, there is word that the EU3 is ready to start negotiations again, is that true?
The Prime minister : No. We have made an offer. And Iran has decided to resume the conversion of uranium, and I think it is very important now today to put pressure on Iran to make sure that they accept this offer, if they don’t accept... then we will have to go then to the Security Council.
Q - Do you believe that the new presidency sees it that way, since they have restarted and said that they won’t stop?
The Prime minister : As always, in any negotiations, it is difficult to make any prediction, but I think that there is a deal possible, there is an offer that has been made by the Europeans and I think it is in the interests of the international community, in the interests of Iran, to accept these proposals
Q - What sanctions can you imagine?
The Prime minister : You see there is one key factor of diplomacy, never tell what you will do before.
Embassy of France in the United States - November 29, 2005