Histories of france and britain

| December 3, 2012


CHAPTER 1  – Brief Immigration Histories of France and Britain

As a nation France has historically attracted migrants from both within and outside of Europe over the centuries. During the nineteenth century migrants flowed into France from neighbouring countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Poland, encouraged by the regular opportunities for employment. A significant increase in immigration is evident as France began to rapidly industrialize in the 1850’s and the sudden demand for labour that was created by economic expansion and industrial growth could not be met internally. This process continued and increased in scale during the latter 1800’s and 1900’s as France established itself as a major European industrial nation. In 1851 foreigners accounted for around 1% of the total population; by the mid-1880s, this had trebled to nearly 3% (A G Hargreaves, 1995).  During the First World War France needed to actively recruit foreign workers in order to keep its infrastructure and war effort going and to maintain necessary supplies from, for example, its munitions factories. When the war ended foreign labour was still needed to lessen the huge impact caused to the domestic labour market by the loss of so many men in the fighting. Immigration was at a high point immediately following the war, but with the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, the whole of Europe, began to experience a serious and long-term period of economic depression. As France was also severely affected, the number of immigrant workers rapidly decreased as they began to search elsewhere for work. Some left willingly as the labour market contracted, whilst others were forcibly removed.

By the late 1950s and 1960s, as the economy recovered, the French Government once again recognised the need for immigrants to assist with France’s economic reconstruction. France relied upon migrant workers to meet labour shortages fill low-paid employment into positions that it was otherwise difficult to fill. Initially French politicians and planners intended to meet France’s need for labour by encouraging European immigrants to settle rather than look elsewhere, however, growing levels of prosperity in Europe meant that less and less Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese etc. were attracted to France. The government were therefore forced to look towards migrants from the French colonies and former colonies in North Africa and South-East Asia to fill the labour gap. As in Britain, colonialism created the simplest and most effective channel for labour migration into France. As a major colonial power, France could quickly and efficiently enlist a potential workforce from its colonies and protectorates, particularly the Maghreb (North-West Africa: Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia). By the middle of the 1950s those from the Maghreb region were the most significant group of immigrants moving into France. A huge proportion of those choosing to migrate to France were from Algeria, one of the most important members of the French colonial empire. However, immigration from the Maghreb was different in that unlike pre-war immigrant populations who were almost entirely men, those from the Maghreb began to bring their families over to settle in France too. From the 1970s onwards France witnessed the increase in women from other countries moving to France to be reunited with their husbands and fathers and reuniting as families. These employees were unfortunately also frequently the first to be laid off in the 1980’s as the economy again slowed down.

Perhaps in part due to its position as an island, Britain’s significant immigration history is similar though much shorter. Throughout the 19th century census records identify a small but regular trickle of immigrants from all over Europe. Immigrants from further afield were generally part of the slave trade and would not be identified in any census. Slavery was effectively outlawed in 1807, but it was not until 1833 that the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by Parliament, which banned slavery throughout the British Empire and its abolition meant a virtual halt to the movement of black people into Britain. This coincided with a small increase in migrants from Europe, however, immigration by Europeans did not take place in significant numbers. However, we began to see significant levels of immigration during and after both the First and Second World Wars. During both of these conflicts, many thousands of men from across the Empire made the journey to Britain in order to enlist and fight for what they considered to be ‘their country’. India alone provided 1.3 million soldiers to fight in the First World War, 138,000 serving on the Western Front. During the Second World War, almost 60,000 British merchant seamen came from the sub-continent (http://news.bbc.co.uk, 2002). Some of these men stayed in Britain following the end of the war and small immigrant communities established themselves around the port areas. At that time there was no specific legislation regarding immigration but the British establishment did not seem overly enthusiastic.

As the Second World War ended, just like in France, the labour market had been decimated by the loss of so many soldiers, and the government began looking again towards immigrants to fill those gaps. A significant number of Polish immigrants were the first to settle in the UK, partly due to the links made during the war. Italians also settled into small communities but not in sufficient numbers to meet the employment need. West Indian men, demonstrating a deep patriotism towards Britain and its Empire, had been keen to migrate in order to fight in the war and as the war ended, their lack of prospects at home and feelings of unity led them to seek to work and stay in the UK. The government needed these men to join Britain’s depleted workforce, although officially immigration from the rapidly shrinking Empire was being discouraged. As mass immigration continued in the 1950s, incidents of prejudice and of racial tension exploded into widespread racism and racial violence in the UK. Until then, legislation had allowed people from the Empire and Commonwealth, who at that time all held British Passports, unrestricted access to Britain. Facing public outcry and political pressure, the government continued to pass successive laws making it more and more difficult for non-white immigrants to enter the country. By 1972, legislation meant that a British passport holder born overseas could only settle in Britain if they, firstly, had a work permit and, secondly, could prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK. (news.bbc.co.uk, 2002) In effect, this meant that children of white families from the British Empire and Commonwealth could migrate to Britain whereas those of black parentage were denied entry.

So it can be seen that historically, immigration into both Britain and France shares the same roots in terms of being vital to the workforce and development of both countries at times of need. Where they differ is that France has a much longer history of welcoming migrant workers over a period of at least a hundred years whereas Britain’s interest is much more recent.  Immigration into Britain was relatively unpopular as people who were different seemed to be instantly treated with fear and mistrust whereas until the late sixties immigration into France was largely depoliticized and seen as an essential but economic bonus. Up until the early seventies it was anticipated that in time the migrant workers from North and Sub-Saharan Africa would eventually return to their countries of origin, but as it became apparent that a large number intended to settle permanently, public opinion began to change. The French government responded to increasing public concern by, strengthening its immigration policy and by 1977 had introduced legislation to prohibit all inward immigration. Rapidly, immigration into France had shifted from a generally positive matter of economics into a serious social problem, and the attitudes of the French towards immigrants began to parallel those of the British.

Chapter 2  – The Nature of The State in France and Britain

One of the most fundamental differences between France and Britain is the nature of the state. In the 1880 the term ‘laicité’ was first used in France following ‘Le crise du seize Mai’ in1877, which was effectively the birth of Republicanism in France, in order to ensure that policies developed were not inspired by religious concerns.  In 1905 France fully separated the functions of the Church and the State by passing a law that prohibited the state from formally recognizing or funding any religion or religious organisation that existed to further its religious beliefs. ‘Laicité’ is a concept that is enshrined in the French constitution (Article 1) and remains central to the modern French Republic and a powerful political driving force. The word laicité is difficult to translate directly into English as it encompasses a whole concept, but it is derived from the word ‘layman’ i.e. not part of the clergy.  Its closest translation in terms of ideology is that of ‘secularism’, but this does not really convey its full meaning.  Essentially, laicité insists upon the strict separation of state from church, i.e. to have no state religion so that the state officially sees religion as a private matter. In this way France differs considerably from Britain: whereby in Britain the Queen is not only the Head of State but is also the head of the Church of England, giving the church a formal role in the administration of the state, whilst the Catholic Church has no such status in the French Republic, despite the fact that a high proportion of French people are Catholics. This clear difference in state ideology obviously leads to significant differences in approaches to issues of legislation and cultural approaches to social policy.
As a ‘secular’ state, France’s approach to immigration and issues of diversity was to follow a clear assimilation model. It is important to the French that one is a citizen first and a full participant in the wider French community and that any form of religious or sub group identity is not sanctioned or otherwise encouraged by the state. In France, as a French citizen you are expected to ‘leave cultural and ethnic differences at the border and are theoretically seamlessly assimilated into the republic. The ideology is that everyone is equal before a state that is blind to colour, race and religion’ (www.guardian.co.uk, 2010).  Ethnic minorities do not officially exist in France as it is constitutionally illegal to classify or count people by ethnicity, but the huge difference between this ideological view and the reality of discrimination was becoming a problem in France. Whilst immigration remained a frequently solitary and male dominated process of migrating as an individual, separated from links with home and family, in order to work,  assimilation did not appear to have been problematic and therefore did not really present a challenge to the country’s equilibrium. However, with the changes to patterns of migration which involved more families and, over time, the building of new communities of immigrants, particularly focussed in the poor ‘banlieux’, whole generations of young people of immigrant descent have been effectively ‘ghettoised’ and it appears that it is this that has encouraged third and fourth generation young people from immigrant families to seek their own identity and align themselves with religious or geographic communities as a response to the discrimination which does not exist in theory but which is blatantly apparent in reality.

In contrast to this Britain adopted a multiculturalism approach to diversity. Such an ideology attempts to create unity through difference, theorising that although a nations sub cultures may be diverse, they should all be celebrated and embraced as they share common values. The two approaches are quite different and France (assimilation) and Britain (multiculturalism) are often used for comparative analysis as both adopt quite clearly identified models of these two approaches. The world continually refers back to these two countries in order to weigh the pros and cons of each social model. With both countries ferociously defending their particular model, and with other countries disagreeing over the relative merits of each, the debate continues. Interestingly however, despite the application of two very different models and responses to immigration and diversity, both France and Britain appear to be facing similar dilemmas, problems and attitudes within their own countries towards immigration as a social issue.

*Other relevant cultural issues and differences like religion, family, education etc and how they relate to attitudes and public opinion.

*Nationalism – France’s assimilation model plays to Nationalist attitudes. Britain as an Island- small within Europe but wanting to be influential. Self protection ideologies also play into the hands of Nationalism.

Chapter 3 – Legal and Political Frameworks of France and Britain

Since the 1970’s both France and Britain have focussed increasingly on immigration policy and a raft of legislation has followed: In France during the eighties, under a left wing government there was a movement of compassion for immigrant labourers living alone for years, away from their families and a policy of  “Regroupement  Familial” (family regrouping) was developed through Jacques Chirac and made law on 29/4/1976,  under the principle that ” it is a right for each person to have a normal family life”. By 1977 the policy had been revised and it was further modified in December 1984, 24 August 1993 and May 11 1998. This successive legislation not only dealt with the integration of immigrants into France by reaffirming the principles of Republicanism and laicité, but also demonstrated concerted efforts to ensure assimilation through state control rather than rely upon integration simply following on as a result of residence and education. From the late seventies, changing political fortunes of both left and right wing governments had led to constant reinstatement and reversal of immigration policy and this impacted significantly on integration issues. Indeed France created somewhat of a record for legislative change and counter reversal in terms of immigration policy. In 1993 a right wing coalition gained power, and following the increasingly popular Front Nationale demands for the expulsion of immigrants from France, the response from Charles Pasqua, interior minister, was “immigration zero.” He later qualified this statement to mean zero illegal immigration, but the intentions behind such policy and legislation were quite apparent. The so-called Pasqua Laws denied foreign graduates the opportunity of taking up jobs offered by French employers and provided only limited residence rights to foreign employees, increased the waiting period for immigrant families’ ‘reunification’ from twelve months to two years, and refused residence permits to unifying migrants who were in the country illegally. The legislation also increased the powers of the police to deport foreigners. The election of Jacques Chirac, a conservative right wing president in 1995 continued the course of limiting immigration channels. As the far right Front Nationale, led by Jean Marie Le Pen, focussing on an anti immigrant agenda began to rise in popularity, the conservative right responded by adopting some of the issues highlighted as important to the French electorate, notably furthering immigration control. In 1997 Lionel Jospin, a Socialist was voted in as Prime Minister which led to the National Assembly reconsidering their position on immigration policy. The new government commissioned a report on ‘L’immigration et la nationalite’ by Patrick Weil a prominent political scientist. The report highlighted that the Pasqua Laws deprived France the opportunity to benefit from the highly skilled international employee market through policies which made it difficult for foreign students and professionals to settle in France. The report’s recommendations led the way for new immigration law passed in 1998. The new legislation afforded special immigration status to highly skilled foreign scholars and scientists and loosened entry conditions for certain categories of highly skilled foreign professionals, whilst simultaneously aiming to fight illegal immigration. Another significant change was that under the Pasqua Laws, children born to immigrant parents in France had to apply for French citizenship, whereas, under the new 1998 legislation, such children would be automatically granted French citizenship at the age of 18.
Since 1945, the French Constitution (Articles 21-24) had dictated that in order to be naturalized an immigrant would need to demonstrate their “assimilation to the French community” by learning French. Whilst Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy passed laws in 2003 to broaden this, with the additional requirement to demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of the rights and duties of a French citizen. This requirement was further extended in legislation passed by Sarkozy at a time when he was still interior minister but looking towards standing in the presidential elections. This latest legislation in 2007 also required a contract for family unification to be entered into, with sanctions for non compliance, and the requirement to complete an eight week course which was “an evaluation of language ability and the values of the Republic” before leaving their country of origin (Schain 2008: 57).

Prior to 1962, the British Nationality Act of 1948 identified a ‘Commonwealth citizen’ and ‘British subject’ as interchangeable. A British passport holder was identified as a subject of  ‘the United Kingdom and Colonies’, which implied that a member of the Commonwealth, as a British subject, was  entitled to live and work in the United Kingdom if they so chose. The Conservative government in power from 1954 to 1961 were strongly pro-commonwealth and saw no need to legislate to control immigration. However, among working class Britons opinion was shifting strongly in favour of limiting non white immigration. As public opinion became stronger the Government were put under increasing pressure to introduce immigration control measures. Despite the fact that Labour won the elections in late 1964, they had only a very small majority and were therefore vulnerable to populist pressure exerted by right wing militants. Sir Cyril Osborne, Conservative MP for Louth proposed a new bill  to ‘introduce periodic and precise limits on immigration’ and thus deny entry to Britain of all Commonwealth, immigrants other than those whose parents and grandparents were born in Britain. Although Sir Osborne’s views were generally accepted as somewhat extreme, the Conservative party backed his proposals .The Bill was defeated in March 1965 at its first reading, but soon after the Labour Government itself introduced a White Paper which proposed similar changes to the 1962 Act. The 1965 White Paper signalled the end of immigration for unskilled workers. It also introduced new limitations and regulations on foreign students, dependants of immigrants and visitors to Britain. Compulsory health checks were also introduced for new migrants and the Home Secretary was afforded new powers to remove and repatriate migrants to their countries of origin. However, as the economy began to recover and public opinion cooled, Britain saw the publication of a further ‘Race Relations Act’ in 1968. This Act of Parliament shifted the focus from control to reducing racial tensions and tackling discrimination. It made it illegal to refuse public services, housing or work to someone on the basis of their colour, race, ethnicity or nationality and created the Community Relations Commission to promote multi racial harmony. This was the point at which political argument moved firmly away from immigration control to the management and improvement of race relations.


The British current approach to integration was developed through this consensus between the two major political parties. This approach adopted a race-relations, or multicultural focus. Integration was seen in British policy more in terms of dealing with access to and eradicating discrimination of resource allocation. The Race Relations Act of 1965 focussed upon the provision of a public body to ensure fairness and advocacy in such issues. The Race Relations Act was further extended in 1968 and again in1976 to provide a clear way forward and bipartisan approach to immigration, race, and multiculturalism. The term “race” in Britain was clearly applied to those of Asian and African commonwealth origin and from the 1950s political debates had focussed on “coloured” immigration. This way of differentiating between European and effectively black and Asian immigrant populations was identical to that of France. However, they differed in that the concept of race and ethnicity in Britain was incorporated into the formal policy framework of law. Where the countries differed much more starkly was in approach. Britain firmly established itself as supporting a multicultural rather than assimilation based model. In 1966 Roy Jenkins, then home secretary stated: “I do not think that we need in this country a melting pot…. I define integration therefore, not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance” (Benton 1985: 71). By the 1980s, the education system had lent their considerable support to multiculturalism, which was by now firmly embedded in the legal system. Roy Jenkins’ view was reiterated in educational reports, Particularly the Swann Report in 1985 which identified the negative effect of racism upon the education of black children in the United Kingdom. In 1997 the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain produced a report which positively identified the United Kingdom to be a “community of communities”, thus reinforcing a multicultural approach very different from the assimilation model of France. It is interesting that despite these two very different models, by October 2008 a European Pact on Immigration and Asylum had been signed by 27 EU heads of Government to include those of both France and Britain and it is reported that Nicolas Sarcozy stressed that  ‘C’est la première démonstration d’une volonté commune et d’une vision d’ensemble en matière d’immigration’ (Le Figaro, 2008)

Chapter 4 – The Influence of the Media on Attitudes towards Immigration

2005 riots in France

France wearing of headscarf etc

Role of the media – use current newspaper tv info to compare media reporting and influence

Chapter 5 – Exploring Current Attitudes towards Immigration

In order to explore current attitudes towards immigration, I decided to carry out a questionnaire to explore differing attitudes between English and French students on key issues regarding immigration.  On reviewing the available literature and data, it is clear that there has been a significant amount of exploration of these issues via major international surveys  – for example the European Social Survey, Transatlantic Trends in Immigration, the Institute for Public Policy Research, TNS Sofres etc. The Outcomes of current Transatlantic Trends research released in February this year indicated that English attitudes towards immigration are more negative than our French counterparts. It identified that One in five UK respondents regarded immigration to be one of the most important issues facing the UK today. 68% of respondents in the UK are worried about illegal immigration and 36% concerned about legal immigration. 70% of UK respondents reported ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ management of immigration by the government as opposed to 58% of French. This research is significant as it suggests that although attitudes towards immigration are more negative in Britain, public opinion in France is rapidly changing and aligning itself with that of the UK. (see appendix ??)

The biannual European Social Survey appeared to provide the most consistent survey data since respondents in all the European countries concerned were asked the same standardised questions and their results compared year on year. Most of the other survey results I considered were not directly comparable as they were drawing from different surveys completed in separate countries and comparing on the basis of ‘similar’ questioning or even different questioning on the general subject of immigration. On further investigation it became apparent that the European Social Survey consisted of core modules and rotating modules. Unfortunately, although the 2002 survey contained a module specifically concerned with immigration, this rotating module has not been included in any of the four surveys completed since then. This is relevant as research also seems to indicate that, although more negative in Britain, attitudes towards immigration in France and Britain are narrowing rapidly. I therefore decided to use the ESS immigration module to provide a series of questions for my questionnaire. I chose questions that were the most relevant to my own research and interests in the subject. By using these questions I was able to ensure that the format of the questions (in both French and English) had been properly formulated and tested to ensure accurate comparison. The other advantage of using questions from the 2002 ESS was that my results could be directly compared with the main conclusions of that survey. In this way my research, though it will only provide qualitative data due to the limited scope of it, will contribute in some small way towards a better understanding of the difference in attitudes between French and English young people and explore their perceptions in some detail.

For my study, I prepared a questionnaire of 16 main questions and asked a random group of English and  French students to complete them. The French students were those on exchange placements currently studying in England, and the English students were those who had undertaken a period of study in France. This decision was taken in order to get some degree of similarity between the groups. I followed ethical guidelines and ensured confidentiality. (This was particularly important if I was to be able to get honest attitudes and views from respondents – as the subject matter is clearly both personally and politically sensitive.) Clearly my research only provides limited information. It is not directly comparable with the European Social Survey as my respondents were drawn from a particular group (language students) rather than the general public. My research is also on a very small scale and the views and attitudes of such a small number of respondents cannot realistically be extrapolated to form more general statements. However, my research provides a good degree of qualitative information as well as some limited qualitative data based results. I will therefore present my findings more as a narrative and draw some limited conclusions from them.

My own research involved a total of xx respondents, xx British students and xx French students. Each were given a copy of the questionnaire (either appendix 1 or appendix 2 depending upon language spoken). It was explained to each volunteer that their questionnaires would be treated in strict confidence and that they were not individually identifiable in any way and that completed questionnaires would only be seen by the researcher. It was also made clear that any conclusions drawn would be of a general nature only. Each separate question also provided for a ‘don’t know’ answer to allow recipients to effectively avoid any question they were not happy to answer but enable them to still complete the rest of the questionnaire.

As can be seen from the table of results, there was little significant difference between French and British respondents to questions  xxxxxx  . Thus indicating generally similar attitudes between the countries. It is also interesting that the responses of the British students were not noticeably more negative than those of their French counterparts. This may indicate further narrowing of views internationally or it may simply indicate that educated students with an interest in language are likely to hold views that align more easily with similar others abroad than with those from different backgrounds in their own countries.  Question xxx   very interesting because …… etc ………. Differences and similarities ………The most significant result is ……….

The results of my small piece of research suggest that ……however as such a limited and specific piece of work, firm conclusions cannot be reliably drawn. Further research in this area would be useful to explore to what extent attitudes are changing and converging and this could then be compared with media and political influence as these may well be highly influential on public opinion.




http://news.bbc.co.uk/english/in-depth/uk/2002/short history of immigration.stm

Article for BBC – The deep roots of French secularism by Henri Astier  -1 September 2004.

ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, Working Paper 45, University of Oxford, 2007.

France 24 report on October 4 2007, Great Britain divided on the impact of immigration.

Report for Expatica.com – Tests Gauge attitudes towards immigration 16/12/2009.

Schain, M. A. (2008). The Politics of Immigration in France, Britain, and the United States: A Comparative Study. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Banton Michael, (1985) Promoting Racial Harmony: Cambridge University Press



A.G. Hargreaves, Immigration, `Race’ and Ethnicity in Contemporary France (London: Routledge, 1995)



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Category: Free Essays, History