NEW: France has an influx of about 130,000 people a year
France is not integrating immigrants well, President Sarkozy says
He is running for a second term in office and facing a strong challenge
He says he cannot imagine his rival Francois Hollande as president
France has too many foreigners and is not integrating them properly, President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview on French television.
“Today we have a problem,” Sarkozy said Tuesday night on France 2 TV.
“Our system of integration is working worse and worse because we have too many foreigners on our territory, and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school,” he said.
France places a premium on national identity, pressing the population to put “Frenchness” before religion or national background.
Sarkozy is running for a second term in office, with voting set for April 22. He faces a strong challenge from Francois Hollande of the Socialist party and a range of candidates from smaller parties, including the far-right Marine Le Pen.
Sarkozy, a conservative, offered cautious praise for Hollande, but said he could not imagine his rival as president.
“Francois Hollande is an intelligent man,” Sarkozy said. “I do not have a problem with him. The only thing is, he has never held office at the state level. Honestly, can you imagine Francois Hollande as president of France? Imagine it!”
He said peace in the Middle East would be a top priority for him if he were re-elected.
“I hope that France – and all of Europe – we would take an initiative for the year 2012 to be the year of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said.
And he said if he won a second term he would “celebrate with those I love – my wife and daughter.”
Issues surrounding immigration and integration have troubled French politicians for years.
Last year, a controversial French law went into effect banning Islamic face coverings in public places.
In 2010, hundreds of Muslim youths rioted after a man died in a shootout with police.
France has had an influx of about 130,000 people from other countries each year for the past several years, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The country also had about 48,000 asylum seekers in 2010.
The French population is about 66 million, according to the CIA World Factbook.