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Automatic citizenship in France questioned

France's minister for overseas affairs provoked outrage on 17 September by saying illegal immigrants were giving birth on French territory to ensure their children had French nationality. By law, a child born on French ground is French, no matter who the parents are.

Francois Baroin called for a debate on France's birthright laws. The move came as a sign that mainstream politicians are starting to follow the anti-immigration trend in France.

"I have seen things that have shocked me and on the basis of these truths on the ground I want to reopen the debate. The law permits it," he told Radio France Outre-mer (RFO) in a rare outspoken interview by a usually low-profile minister.

He said that on the island of Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago, "more than 30 percent of the inhabitants are of illegal origin".

Some 1.7 million people live in France's overseas territories and departments. The former include French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Mayotte and enjoy more autonomy than departments while retaining certain French rights and obligations.

Baroin, whose ministry governs France's relations with those regions, said he did not exclude a review of the right by birthplace that determines who can become French.

In the weekly Figaro magazine, Baroin went a step further and said discussing the law of birthright even on mainland France "should no longer be a taboo".

In Germany, children of foreign parentage must decide as young adults whether to take their parents' nationality instead of the German.

Baroin's remarks provoked condemnation by the opposition Socialist Party (PS) and the SOS Racism association.