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France/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

One of the major debates of French cultural policy concerns the question of cultural minorities, national or foreign, present on its territory. The notion of foreigner is based on the criterion of nationality: any person is foreign who does not have French nationality. Certain persons can acquire French nationality during their life. They become then "French by acquisition" (Français par acquisition) as opposed to "French by birth" (Français de naissance). The definition of an immigrant was established by the Haut Conseil de l'intégration in 1992. An immigrant is a foreign born person, born in another country, but who lives in France. Thus the study of the immigrant population is based on two criteria: the place of birth and the nationality at birth. An immigrant can become French or remain foreign according to his aspiration and to the available possibilities.

The Constitution declares in Article 1 that "France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organised on a decentralised basis". Therefore minorities in France do not have any particular cultural status (or other: legal, pertaining to worship, economic...) and all citizens have equal rights. French law cannot accord specific rights to given “groups” defined by their community of origin, culture, beliefs, language or ethnicity. The French Republic does not recognise the notions of cultural “community” or “minority”. It only considers citizens (indivuals) or associations (of citizens). In this way, in 2007 the Constitutional Council rejected a government bill relative to the control of immigration, the integration and right of asylum, which planned measures allowing the enumeration of groups based on ethnic and racial origins. Nonetheless, non-compulsory surveys can still collect ethnic or religious information. Furthermore, many works that are realised by national bodies, in particular the censuses of population by INSEE, allow a rather precise vision of the diversity of composition of the French population.

Table n°1: foreign and immigrant population by sex and age in 2013 (en %)







Age :



   Less than 15 y.o.



   15-24 y.o.



   25-54 y.o



   55 y.o or more



Number (thousands)

4 084

5 835

Share in the overall population



Source :         Insee, recensement de la population :

Legal immigrants have the same rights as the French, with regard to education, health and social security. As foreigners they cannot vote (except EU citizens at local elections). However, they profit from cultural rights within the framework of the Law on Associations (1901) which was open to all residents in October 1981: this law allows any foreigner or immigrant living in France, under certain conditions, to create associations, including religious organisations, with the proviso of respecting the Constitution (secularity, equality, freedom of conscience, etc.).

The principal responsibility for immigration in France lies traditionally with the Ministry of the Interior. The ministerial policies are assisted and implemented by the Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration (French Office of immigration and integration, OFII), which, since 2009, is the single State body in charge of the integration of migrants during the first five years of their stay in France. The OFII pilots the Observatory of Statistics of Immigration and Integration. There is also a French Office for protection of refugees and stateless: Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides OFPRA.

Table n°2: foreigners in France by nationality in 2013


Breakdown (%)




1 615 409

UE 27


1 420 399



138 672



177 171



519 500



153 608

   Other UE 27 nationalities


431 448

Other European nationalities


195 010



1 647 252



476 470



443 379



161 451

Other African nationalities


565 952



566 606



216 423

Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese


38 557

Autres pays d'Asie


311 626

American and Oceanian nationalities


254 590



4 083 857

Source :         Insee, recensement de la population :

For a long time, France has been a country of cultural diversity and lives in a time of globalisation. French culture is enriched by many origins and traditions, rooted in history: regional cultures, overseas territories, cultural interactions inherited from European history and from colonisation, from the French-speaking cultural area, etc. Public authorities thus attempt to promote cultural integration within the limits envisaged by its Republican laws. France's legal and administrative texts avoid naming populations according to their ethnic origin, but this does not exclude recognition of an individual's social activities or lifestyle. Several national, regional or local organisations and associations supervise and assist in the regulation of this policy, for example:

  • the Défenseur des droits (Defender of Rights), which fights against discrimination and protects equality;
  • national bureaus: agence nationale de Lutte contre l'Illettrisme (ANLCI, fight against illiteracy), commissariat général à l’Égalité des Territoires, (CGET, in charge of territorial equity), creation in 2017 of a national agency for French Language Bureau for Social Cohesion, agence de la Langue française pour la Cohésion sociale ;
  • the Commissions départementales d'accès à la citoyenneté (CODAC, committee for access to citizenship in each département), the observatory of diversity and parity in the Ministry of Interior and the observatory of diversity in the Broadcasting Authority;
  • the 2016 law on freedom of creation, architecture and heritage plans the creation of an observatory on artistic creation and cultural diversity;
  • besides, a Commissariat à la diversité et à l'égalités des chances (Commission on diversity and equal opportunity) was appointed at the service of the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012. This body produced reports and recommendations.

Many non-governmental organisations complete the action of public authorities, among which: Observatoire des inégalités (Observatory on Disparities), Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples (MRAP, Movement against racism and for friendship between people), SOS Racisme (Anti-Racist Organisation), Agence de développement des relations interculturelles pour la citoyenneté (ADRIC, Agency for the development of intercultural relations for citizenship), Fondation Cultures et Diversité, observatory on discriminations (Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne), association République et Diversité, among others.

Numerous cultural actions provide support for immigrants, in particular concerning their knowledge of the French language. Courses are organised by associations to favour integration and naturalisation, and are assisted in this particular pedagogy by public bodies in charge of social action. One third of all immigrants have a poor command of spoken French and 46% cannot write well. In 2011, the label "Français langue d'intégration" (French language of integration, FLI) was created. This label is delivered by the State authorities to the training institutions that respect various criteria to guarantee the quality of the teaching of the French language, according to a specific framework of reference (référentiel). In parallel, a series of official diplomas validate a French language proficiency at different levels: Diplôme initial de langue française (Initial Diploma in the French Language, DILF), Diplôme d'études en langue française (Diploma of Studies in the French Language, several levels, DELF), Diplôme approfondi de langue française (Superior Diploma of French Language, DALF). Since 1 January 2012, the language prerequisite to acquire French nationality is the level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: for example, a labelled certificate FLI, or the DELF, can attest this level.

The General Delegation (Division) of the French Language and Languages of France (DGLFLF) of the Ministry of Culture contributes to diversity and inclusion policies and advocates cultural and artistic knowledge of the French language. In partnership with academic actors, the DGLFLF publishes lexicons, glossaries and dictionaries in various languages (French, English, German, Spanish...) for foreigners in different fields such as audio-visual, music, cinema, economy and finance, history of art, data processing and the Internet, etc. The Delegation organises exhibitions and performances that promote the Francophone artistic expressions (which concern approximately 60 countries or regions in the world). Many municipal libraries or media libraries have books in the native languages of the immigrant population (Arabic, Portuguese, Asian languages, languages of Central Europe, Gypsy and Roma languages, etc.).

The Maison des Cultures du Monde (World Cultures Institute) was established in 1982 in Paris with the support of the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, to welcome, host and promote all sorts of foreign cultural events and performances. Public authorities decided in 1990 to dedicate the National Theatre of the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe to the promotion and circulation of European theatre (see chapter 3.4.2).

Many festivals and events celebrate foreign cultures everywhere in France: Banlieues bleues for jazz and Afro-American music, festival Rio Loco in Toulouse, Festival d'Automne in Paris, thematic film festivals (African, Asian, Iranian), surtitled theatre plays, exhibitions, and music concerts. It is estimated that 5 000 festivities and events relate to the issue of immigration, but are systematically open to everyone, according to the French law and conception of citizenship. The Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration (national centre of the history of immigration), opened in 2007 in Paris, is the only national museum dedicated to the history and cultures of immigration in France. The Cité organises artistic and cultural programming in connection with its museological mission. Also in 2007, the Fund Images de la diversité was set up, jointly managed by the CNC and the CGET. This fund proposes complementary aid to films, broadcasting and multimedia works that contribute to a better representation of cultural diversity in France and to the promotion of equal opportunities.

More widely, beyond the diversity of the cultural communities that compose the French nation, public authorities consider the issue of diversity in its multiple dimensions: diversity of the cultural offer, of the cultural expressions and practices, and audience diversity. The Observatory of Disparities reminds us that social category and standard of living still impact on participation in cultural practices). In 2016, report from Fondation Jean-Jaurès also points the unequal access to culture between the different socio-professional categories (see chapter 8.2.1).

The Ministry created in 2004 a specific taskforce Mission Vivre ensemble, which gathers 32 cultural institutions to work for the inclusion and participation of unfamiliar audiences to culture ( In 2015 a State Senior Official fir diversity was appointed to the Ministry to foster a braoder access to cultural activies and practices, and also to cultural professions.

Following several attacks in France from 2015, which were claimed by the terrorist organisation ISIS, the Ministry of Culture launched a specific programme “Culture and Citizenship”, based on four axes: culture for citizenship, culture and youth education, access to culture for all, assertion of cultural diversity and plurality. In 2016 the State launched a national training programme “Republic Values and Secularism” for the operators of the urban, youth and sport policies.

Chapter published: 18-05-2017

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