Posted on December 20, 2023

France Passes Controversial Immigration Bill Amid Deep Division in Macron’s Party

Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, December 20, 2023

The French government is facing a political crisis after the health minister Aurélien Rousseau offered his resignation in protest over a hardline immigration bill.

Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist party was divided and soul-searching on Wednesday after a strict new immigration law was approved by parliament but contained so many hardline measures that the far-right Marine Le Pen claimed it as an “ideological victory” for her own anti-immigration platform.

Rousseau immediately offered his resignation in protest at the law, but the prime minister Élisabeth Borne did not say whether she would accept it. It was unclear whether other ministers would offer to resign.

The bill was originally intended to show that Macron could take tough measures on migration while keeping France open to foreign workers who could help the economy in sectors struggling to fill jobs.

His interior minister Gérald Darmanin had argued that the bill “protected the French”, saying the government had to take tough measures on immigration in order to stem the rise of Le Pen’s anti-immigration far-right National Rally, which is now the single biggest opposition party in parliament and polling in first position ahead of next year’s European elections.

But after opposition parties refused to even debate the immigration bill in parliament last week, a compromise text was swiftly drawn up by a special parliamentary committee. As a result, the centrist government put forward a much tougher, right-wing bill which reduced access to welfare benefits for foreigners, toughened rules for foreign students, introduced migration quotas, made it harder for the children of non-nationals born in France to become French, and ruled that dual nationals sentenced for serious crimes against the police could lose French citizenship.

Within Macron’s centrist grouping, scores of MPs voted against the bill or abstained, revealing deep divisions particularly on the left of Macron’s own centrist Renaissance party. Sacha Houlié, a key figure on the left of Macron’s party, who had led the special committee on the law, voted against it.

Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration, far-right National Rally party, said her party would vote in favour of the bill, calling it an “ideological victory”. The far-right MP Edwige Diaz described the bill as “incontestably inspired by Marine Le Pen”.

A key part of the bill was that some social security benefits for foreigners should be conditional on having spent five years in France, or 30 months for those with jobs. The left-wing opposition said this amounted to Macron copying the controversial central manifesto pledge of decades of far-right politics under Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen: the notion of “national preference” in which benefits and housing should be “for the French first”.

Elsa Faucillon, the communist MP, said the government was using the same words and ideas as the far-right, and going further than Giorgia Meloni in Italy.

It is “the most regressive bill of the past 40 years for the rights and living conditions of foreigners, including those who have long been in France,” about 50 groups including the French Human Rights League said in a joint statement.

The government argued that the bill also contained liberal measures such as regularising undocumented workers in sectors with labour shortages, including in the building industry, health and care sectors and hotels and restaurants.

Borne wrote on X that it was: “a necessary, useful bill” that the French had wanted. She said it was “efficient and conformed with Républicain values” and that the “general interest” had won.

The bill was passed by MPs from Macron’s party voting alongside the right’s Les Républicains. Even though Le Pen’s far-right MPs also voted in favour, the government had enough votes without them.

Opposition politicians on the left pointed out that when Macron was re-elected for a second-term in 2022, he had acknowledged that many voters chose him not for his own ideas but to keep out the far-right ideas of his opponent Marine Le Pen.

Cyrielle Chatelain, a Green MP, told parliament there was a feeling of “shame and betrayal” that Macron had instead brought in the ideas of the far-right with this bill.