, PARIS, Oct 26 – France’s immigration minister said he was launching a debate on national identity, sparking protests from opposition Socialists who on Monday denounced the plan as a sign that "France is sick."
Eric Besson, who is also officially minister for integration and national identity, said on Sunday the debate would last two and a half months and would end with a colloquium on "what it means to be French today."
"We must reaffirm the values of national identity and of the pride in being French," he said, adding that he wanted members of the French and European parliaments to take part in the debate.
"For example it would be good… if all young French had the opportunity once a year to sing the Marseillaise (national anthem)," he said.
He said that in two French departments, or administrative districts, adults would be offered short civic instruction courses on an experimental basis.
Vincent Peillon, a senior Socialist deputy, said the the circumstances in which the debate was being launched "shows that France is sick."
"France has never spoken of national identity. It is dangerous to open the debate like that… France has never thought of itself in terms of foreigners," he told RMC radio.
The question of national identity, a key campaign theme when Nicolas Sarkozy was campaigning for the presidency in 2007, reemerged as he seeks to reassure his core right-wing constituency following two major political controversies.
The first was a row over his Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, who came under fierce attack over his past as a sex tourist in Asia.
In the second, Sarkozy’s 23-year-old son Jean last week gave up a bid to chair the agency that runs France’s top business district after accusations of nepotism.