Tim Stickings, The National, September 6, 2021
France’s conservatives have launched a 30-point manifesto including a pledge to cap immigration as they step up their bid to unseat President Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Macron is up for re-election in spring 2022, five years after outmanoeuvring France’s traditional left and right to take his upstart centrist party to power.
Aiming for a reversal of fortunes next year, the centre-right Republicans sought to put on a show of strength at party congress in Paris, where they assailed Mr Macron’s record on immigration and the economy.
“The Republican right is getting its strength back,” said party president Christian Jacob. “Only we can put forward a plan that meets the expectations of our citizens.”
Among the party’s proposals is an annual immigration cap aimed at “drastically reducing” arrivals.
The party has suggested a figure of 100,000 residence permits per year, which it says would return immigration to about the 1990s level.
Michel Barnier, one of the candidates seeking the Republican nomination, previously called for a three to five-year immigration freeze on immigration from outside the EU.
As an EU member, France would still be obliged to uphold the free movement of people within the bloc.
“A state which protects people is a strong state, a state which fights against insecurity, terrorism and mass immigration,” said Christine Lavarde, the Republican senator who unveiled the party pledges on Saturday.
She accused Mr Macron of presiding over a “French decline”, and highlighted structural problems exposed by the Covid-19 crisis.
One example was that France was the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that had failed to produce a home-grown vaccine, she said.
The 30 pledges were unveiled under the motto “protect, liberate, unite”. As part of a package to tackle crime, the party wants to create 20,000 more prison places and bring in tougher sentences for reoffenders.
Other promises include halving corporation tax and reducing bureaucracy.
The centre-right has been out of power for nearly a decade, since former president Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in his bid for a second term in 2012.
But it maintains more local strength than Mr Macron’s Republic on the Move party, which has largely failed to put down local roots.
Olivier Marleix, a Republican MP, said the manifesto was driven by the party’s local grassroots supporters and was not “concocted by some Parisian technocrats”.
“We are the only ones today who are proposing a credible alternative project,” he said.
The Republicans enjoyed some success in regional elections in June, which bolstered the hopes of some right-wing contenders for the presidency.
Xavier Bertrand, who defeated the far-right National Front in the regional polls, is seen as one potential candidate. Mr Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, recently entered the race after months of speculation.
The party has yet to decide how to select a nominee. A decision on whether to hold a full primary is expected by November.
Mr Macron has not confirmed whether he will seek a second term, but is widely expected to do so.