At the stroke of midnight last Tuesday, the French Parliament approved the immigration bill presented by the Government. A law announced for the first time more than a year and a half ago, postponed on several occasions, rejected by the National Assembly in the first instance, which was on the verge of being abandoned and which was finally approved with the support of the right and the extreme right .
The vote closed the parliamentary journey of one of the most important texts of Emmanuel Macron’s second term, but its political consequences have only just begun. The processing of the text ended with the president’s rival in the presidential elections, Marine Le Pen, exultant, the Government on the brink of a crisis and the presidential coalition fractured.
On Tuesday night, minutes after the favorable vote in the Assembly, the leaders of the right-wing Republican party celebrated the new law as a great success for their formation. “We have managed to get them to accept 98% of the text that we created in the Senate [donde tienen la mayoría]even some very forceful measures such as limiting the right to land,” said Olivier Marleix, group leader of the party in the lower house of Parliament.
However, the last-minute decision to vote in favor of the text in the Assembly – after voting against it in the Senate – allowed Marine Le Pen and her party to regain the prominence that they had lost throughout the processing of the text, marked by the negotiations between Macron and the Republicans. And, incidentally, increase the discomfort of a part of the president’s party with the final result of his own law.
Le Pen and her deputies affirm that many of the measures in the text are actually old demands of their formation, to which the traditional right has joined in recent years, and they consider the final result of the text as an “ideological victory.” The law toughens the conditions for family reunification, recovers the crime of “irregular stay” and limits access to public aid.
Although the Government opposes this reading, many experts consider that the idea of “national preference” is indeed introduced in several articles of the new law. This is a central concept in the ideology of the former National Front (renamed by Marine Le Pen as the National Rally) by which the citizens of a country should be privileged over foreigners in various areas of the State.
“This is a very serious incident,” Olivier Faure, general secretary of the French Socialist Party, lamented on Wednesday. “For the first time, a principle that Jean-Marie Le Pen has fought for for 40 years is introduced into legislation.”
For example, the new law establishes that foreigners with legal residence will have to prove that they have been residing in France for five years or 30 months working in the country in order to receive certain aid, including subsidies for housing or for dependents.
“This law directly attacks the principles of our Republic,” Ombudsman Claire Hédon warned in a statement on Tuesday. As an independent administrative authority, the defender was especially alarmed by the de facto introduction of national preference and considered that the new law “calls into question fundamental rights and seriously violates the principles of equality and non-discrimination.”
Hédon pointed out in particular the restriction “of access to a certain number of social benefits”, a provision that “will have a formidable impact on the precariousness of people living” in French territory and that is “detrimental to social cohesion”.
The authorities of several French departments and the Paris City Council reacted this Wednesday by announcing a total refusal to apply any discrimination in the allocation of public aid, particularly those granted to dependent people.
According to several French media, after the support of Marine Le Pen’s party was announced, some of the senior officials of the presidential coalition – including the prime minister – would have preferred the withdrawal of the text or for the president to renounce its promulgation. And they made it known to Macron on Tuesday night. But the president refused and considered that the text had received enough votes to affirm that the extreme right deputies were not decisive (although if the 88 deputies of the National Group had voted against the law, it would not have been approved). .
On the other hand, shortly after midnight, Le Figaro and Agence France-Presse confirmed the resignation of the Minister of Health, Aurélien Rousseau. The press then evoked the possibility of new resignations in the following hours, but finally the cabinets of the prime minister and the president of the Republic have managed to stop the start of a government crisis.
This Wednesday morning, before the microphones of France Inter radio, Élisabeth Borne acknowledged that some measures of the law that has just been approved will “probably” be considered unconstitutional by the Council of State. Borne – who took charge of the negotiations in the final phase – has indicated that she herself had “expressed her doubts” to the Republicans deputies about certain provisions. And she has specified that the text “will have to evolve” after its review by the Constitutional Council, assuming that a part of the law will be invalidated.
Furthermore, the sequence adds tension to several weeks of exchanged statements between Borne and the Ministers of the Interior and Economy (both from the Republicans party), who defended a closer approach to the Gaullist right. The vote also signaled a fracture in the presidential majority: 59 deputies (out of 251) voted against or abstained in the parliamentary groups of Renacimiento (Macron’s party) and its allies from Horizons and MoDem.
A few weeks ago, during a visit to the Pantheon in Paris, Macron had announced that he was preparing a “meeting with the nation” scheduled for next January, in which he planned to send a “message of unity” and announce the political direction of the next phase of his mandate. According to France Inter, which cited sources close to the Elysée this Wednesday, a new government remodeling could be announced in the coming weeks.
On the other hand, throughout Wednesday, different French media and several members of the progressive Nupes coalition rescued excerpts from the speech given by Macron on the night of his re-election, thanking the left-wing electorate for the votes in the second round. “I know that many of our compatriots voted for me today, not to support my ideas, but to block the extreme right,” Macron said then. “And I want to tell you here that I am aware that this vote is an obligation for the coming years.”
The president defended the compromise reached in the law during an intervention on public television on Wednesday, recalling that the French have decided to give him “only a relative majority” in the Assembly and that concessions have been necessary. “The provisions that have been accepted, although they are not to our liking, did not justify blocking everything.”
Emmanuel Macron also stated that the text did not include ideas from the National Rally (AN) and that there was no “ideological victory” for Marine Le Pen. “Blocking the extreme right means not taking up their ideas and there are none in the text. Our compatriots were waiting for this law and if we do not want the AN and its ideas to come to power, we have to deal with the problems that have allowed them to grow.”