PARIS – France's immigration minister said Wednesday that he wants the wearing of Muslim veils that cover the face and body to be grounds for denying citizenship and long-term residence.
Eric Besson said he planned to take "concrete measures" regarding such veils, which are worn by a small minority of women in France but have become the object of a parliamentary inquiry into whether a ban should be imposed.
Besson spoke during a hearing before the panel of lawmakers as their nearly six-month inquiry draws to a close.
Besson said he believed a formal ban on veils that cover the face and body seemed to him "unavoidable," with a ban in public services as a minimum step.
"I want the wearing of the full veil to be systematically considered as proof of insufficient integration into French society, creating an obstacle to gaining (French) nationality," he said.
He said he would advise prefects, the highest state representative in the various French regions, that the wearing of such veils is a motive for not delivering 10-year residence cards.
Besson said he was prepared to put the measures before parliament to make them law. In November, Besson ordered a nationwide debate on the French identity, to conclude by the end of January with possible measures.
Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy is the force behind both the national identity campaign and the targeting of full-body veils, which he has said are not "welcome." Critics claim he is playing to traditional far-right fears of immigration, particularly by Muslims.
There is concern that some immigrants and citizens, including members of its Muslim population — at some 5 million the largest in western Europe — are failing to fully integrate and even defying the nation's secular values. A law was passed in 2004 banning Muslim headscarves from classrooms.