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PRAGUE — One big surprise of the current presidential campaign in France is how “national identity” has surged to the forefront of the political debate. During the 1995 presidential campaign, the main issues were unemployment and social divisions. In 2002, the priority was security. But the three main candidates this time around — Nicolas Sarkozy, Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou — have given an entirely different shape to this campaign.

Sarkozy, for example, proposes to establish a ministry of immigration and national identity. Likewise, while Royal carefully maintains the distinction between nation and nationalism, she is drifting away from the Socialist Party’s old embrace of The Internationale, instead defending La Marseillaise and suggesting that all citizens should display a French flag on the National Day. Bayrou criticizes the “nationalist obsession” of his competitors, but he supports abrogating the jus soli (the right to obtain French nationality by birth) for people from the French island of Mayotte, owing to massive inflows of pregnant women to the island.

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