The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published its fourth report on France. ECRI’s Chair, Nils Muiznieks, said that while there had been improvements in certain areas, some issues gave rise for concern, such as minorities’ perception of the police, prejudice against Muslims and the tone of the immigration debate.

As regards positive developments, the legal framework to combat discrimination has been strengthened. The police, prosecutors and judges have received training and their response to racially motivated offences has improved. The High Authority against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE) plays a key and growing role in the fight against racism. It uses its broad competences proactively and makes a strong contribution to public debate.

Openly racist statements and acts of violence are generally condemned by politicians. Amendments to the asylum procedure have in some cases advanced non-citizens’ rights. There has been genuine reflection and discussion in the political arena on the question of measuring diversity and “ethnic statistics”, which would allow the evaluation of the impact of general policies on ethnic and religious groups.

However, despite recent changes in the field of criminal law, many victims fail to report racist acts to the police. The low number of convictions does not reflect the true situation as regards racism in France. The police frequently resort to racial profiling and take law enforcement decisions on the basis of racial, ethnic or religious stereotypes rather than on the basis of individual behaviour.

Discrimination on grounds of “race”, colour, language, religion, nationality or national or ethnic origin persists in access to employment, education, housing, and goods and services. Children from immigrant backgrounds are disproportionately represented in certain schools.

There are not enough stopping places for Travellers and Roma; some live in unacceptable conditions; in general, they face a hostile climate of opinion. Part of the population expresses doubts about Muslims’ real willingness, and even their ability, to “respect French values”. The debate on the prohibition of the niqab has increased feelings of discrimination among Muslims and may result in further excluding some Muslim women from society.

Certain politicians exploit racist and xenophobic stereotypes. Some of the measures intended to promote integration, such as the reception and integration contracts and the integration tests to which prospective immigrants are subjected before travelling to France, could have counter-productive effects. The Government’s stated aim to have a fixed number of illegal immigrants removed from the territory has led to excesses. There is widespread suspicion that non-citizens engage in fraud to obtain residence permits and access to rights.

In its report, ECRI has made a number of recommendations, among which the following three will be revisited in two years’ time:

  • Support and regularly consult the High Authority against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE) and take into account its opinions and recommendations;
  • Combat racist expression on the Internet, in particular through a campaign informing the general public that it is possible to report content inciting to racial hatred;
  • Ensure the ongoing schooling of itinerant or semi-itinerant Traveller children, adapted to their lifestyle in consultation with the Traveller community.

Source: ECRI, June 2010,