French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, February 18 announced measures to end a programme that allowed foreign countries, including from Turkey, to send imams and teachers to France in a bid to crack down on what he called the risk of "separatism", France 24 says.
During a visit to the eastern French city of Mulhouse, Macron said the government sought to combat “foreign interference” in how Islam is practiced and the way its religious institutions are organised.
"A problem arises when, in the name of religion, some want to separate themselves from the Republic and therefore not respect its laws,” he said.
Macron plans to end a programme created in 1977 that allowed nine countries to send imams and teachers to France to provide foreign-language and culture classes that are not subject to any supervision from French authorities.
Four majority-Muslim countries – Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey – were involved in the programme, which reaches about 80,000 students every year. Around 300 imams were sent to France every year by these countries and those who arrived in 2020 will be the last to arrive in such numbers, said Macron.
The government has asked the French Muslim Council (CFCM), the body representing Islam in France, to find solutions to train imams on French soil instead and ensure they can speak French and do not spread Islamist views.
The measures were part of a much-anticipated intervention less than a month before municipal elections in France. Macron’s speech came at the end of a visit to Mulhouse, home to a large Muslim community that has been the focus of the French government’s campaign against Islamism.
The new rules were intended to counter Islamic extremism in France by giving the government more authority over the schooling of children, the financing of mosques and the training of imams, said Macron.
"This end to the consular Islam system is extremely important to curb foreign influence and make sure everybody respects the laws of the republic," he told a news conference in Mulhouse.