French children are to be given a "citizen's handbook" to teach them to be better republicans, as part of national identity measures announced by the government today.
Schools will be ordered to fly the French flag and to have a copy of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in every classroom.
The measures, announced by the French prime minister, François Fillon, are the first to emerge from the country's controversial debate on national identity.
Under new rules, immigrants who come to live in France, who since 2007 have had to sign a contract of welcome and integration, will have to take part in a more solemn ceremony to become French citizens. They will also be expected to demonstrate a better command of the French language and a greater knowledge of the "values of the republic". All candidates will be required to sign a "charter" outlining their rights and responsibilities.
Lessons for immigrant parents, currently being tested in 12 regions, will be introduced across the country from September.
"The emphasis will be put on the respect for the values of the republic … notably the principle of equality between men and women … and the level of knowledge of the French language," said Fillon.
His comments came less than a week after France's immigration minister, Eric Besson – a Socialist party defector personally appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy to manage the national identity debate – refused to grant nationality to a Moroccan man who allegedly obliges his wife to wear the burka. The French government is also considering a ban on burkas and full veils in public places.
The carnet du citoyen, a form of citizen's manual, will "follow pupils' civic education from primary to lycée … to better prepare them for the exercise of their future responsibilities" as citizens.
"The Tricolor must be affixed to every school and the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which constitutes our republican reference, must be present in each class," said Fillon.
A "committee of personalities", made up of MPs, intellectuals and historians, will be set up to "follow the application of the measures decided today and to propose new ones", he added.
He said the government would announce further measures in the coming months and that Sarkozy would make a statement in April.
The debate on national identity, which Fillon described as a "popular success", has been fiercely criticised as xenophobic. Critics say it is playing to voters on the extreme right of the political spectrum in the runup to regional elections next month. However, Fillon said it would continue throughout the rest of the government's term, which ends in 2012.
More than 58,000 French people have contributed on a site set up to encourage ideas and comments.
"The subject has been dodged for too long. The question of national identity needs to be debated in the long time and in a natural, calm and non-partisan way because nothing is worse than silence. Nothing is worse and damaging than things unspoken and stigmas that we know have always played into the hands of extremists," said Fillon.