10 December 2015

The French model of integration is broken


Only an excessive faith in economism can lead one to think that the roots of the Paris attacks lie exclusively in the deteriorated French economic situation. The ultimate problem is radical Islamism, primarily due to the political situation in Arabic countries (above all after the calamitous military operation in Iraq and Libya) and bad geopolitical alliances of western nations (for instance the divorce of European Union and Russia following the Ukrainian story).

But the nature of the jihadists has changed since the beginning of this decade.  The vast majority of recent attackers were born in European countries (mainly in France and Belgium); they have European nationalities and have been raised in European schools. They are not “Muslims by heritage” but have converted. They are very young and less educated. Many have suffered from school failure and unemployment, and have fallen into delinquency. To sum up, they are less intellectual than was, for instance, Mohamed Atta. They instinctively reject the society in which they were brought up.

And for sure, there is a slight correlation between the youth unemployment rate in a country and the proportion of jihadists in the population. The link is slight but it exists. I have computed the scale of jihadism in occidental “big” countries in their total population. Countries with the highest ranks are Belgium, Sweden and France. The UK, Germany and the USA are very far behind. Belgium, Sweden and France are characterized by a youth unemployment rate up to 20% (25% in France), a very different situation from UK, Germany and the USA.

Let me develop the French case, first because the recent attacks were conducted in Paris partly by French individuals, and second because I have a peculiar knowledge of my native country. It is striking to note that, far from what French people believe, France is no longer a country of large immigration. The immigration rate (the proportion of immigrants in the total population) is at 8.5%, against 13% in Germany or USA and more than 20% in Australia and Canada. 400,000 individuals are illegal immigrants in France – only 0.6% of the total population.

There is no systematic link between immigration and the number of jihadists, contrary to what far right parties say. It should not be surprising since many young jihadists are European (but often of foreign origin). Another crucial information: according to the Pew Research Center, 7.5% of the French population is Muslim, a rate slightly above the European one. High but not huge. Moreover one of the greatest French demographers, Hervé Le Bras, calculates that only 500,000 Muslims are practising. It is very difficult to understand the nature of the French problem only taking into accounts the broad figures of immigration or religious practices. This is because the difficulty lies in integration and, even if it is not the only reason for Islamism in France, it would be intellectually dishonest not to consider it.

The truth is that the French model of integration is broken, similar to the situation in Belgium and Sweden. For instance, in Molenbeek the global unemployment rate is up to 30% of the active population, as it is in many northern areas of Paris. And in Husby, the suburb of Stockholm where riots blew up in 2013, the proportion of unemployed people was twice as high in the capital city. A sensible integration policy is needed and this must rest on three pillars.

First, the job market has to become more flexible to promote full employment.

Second, the educational system has to take into account the difficulty of parts of population to integrate. Focus has to be put on classical courses like literacy, History and even Latin. France also needs to open the philosophically difficult topic of affirmative action. But the goal of deeper integration can be reached by roundabout roads. For instance, corporate trade unions could commit to achieve a minimum level of diversity at the head of the big French companies, which is not the case at all today.

Third, urban renovation has to be put at the top of the agenda for public policy. The lack of mix in the urban population often comes from architecture and not, as often supposed by left-wing politicians, because of the viciousness of the bourgeoisie. Destroying the towers of the 1950s and 60s and replacing them by beautiful buildings where middle class are able to live is an efficient way to mix social classes, like in Meaux, in the south-east of Paris.

These policies will not be sufficient to eradicate terrorism, far from that. But they will help.

Nicolas Bouzou is an economist. He is the founder and the director of Asterès, a consulting firm based in Paris.