The French prime minister and his cabinet have stormed out of parliament after an opposition MP accused the rightwing interior minister of flirting with Nazi ideology.
The Socialist Serge Letchimy, from Martinique, questioned the interior minister and close Sarkozy ally, Claude Guéant, over his controversial comments this weekend that “not all civilisations are of equal value”, and his assertion that some civilisations, namely France’s, are worth more than others.
Letchimy said Guéant was “day by day leading us back to these European ideologies that gave birth to concentration camps”. After a loud interruption of protests, he added: “Mr Guéant, the Nazi regime, which was so concerned about purity, was that a civilization?”
In a rare move, the entire French government stormed out of the question-time session.
The French political class has been at each other’s throats this week over the latest stance by Guéant, who was once Sarkozy’s most senior adviser and is seen as the president’s mouthpiece for rightwing views to court voters from Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National.
Over the past year Guéant has been accused of deliberate anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric after saying the number of Muslims in France was a “problem”, linking immigrants to crime and unemployment, saying the French wanted their country to “remain French”, and that Sarkozy’s drive for military intervention in Libya was a “crusade”.
This weekend he told a meeting with students: “Contrary to the leftwing relativist ideology, for us, not all civilisations are equal. Those who defend humanity seem more advanced to us than those who deny it. Those who defend freedom, equality and brotherhood seem to us superior to those that accept tyranny, subjugation of women and social or ethnic hatred.”
Muslim groups in France sought assurances that Guéant, who is in charge of immigration and religion in the French cabinet, was not referring to Islam and French Muslims. He replied that he had not been targeting any civilisation in particular.
Sarkozy backed Guéant’s comments as “common sense” and dismissed the “ridiculous controversy”.
The French prime minister François Fillon demanded an apology from the Socialist party for the “indecent” and “shameful” Nazi analogy in parliament. The head of the ruling rightwing UMP party’s parliament group, Christian Jacob, said an analogy of this kind was a first in the history of parliament.
The Socialist Letchimy said that as the son of a slave, he refused to apologise. Jean-Marc Ayrault, head of the Socialist parliamentary group, said Guéant’s “repeated provocations” had damaged the political climate.
Some in Sarkozy’s own camp had distanced themselves from Guéant in recent days. “He makes a better minister than ethnologist,” said the former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.