| 27 February 2024, Tuesday |

Tougher French immigration deal threatens Macron’s parliament majority

A deal to toughen French immigration laws agreed by a group of lawmakers on Tuesday was threatening to fracture President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist majority, with members of the left wing of his party announcing they would vote against it.

The deal – which needs to be confirmed by the two houses of parliament later on Tuesday – illustrates the rightward shift in politics in much of Europe, as governments try to fend off the rise of the far-right by being tougher on immigration.

An emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace between Macron, his prime minister and the heads of the presidential coalition in parliament was being held, the palace said, as speculation about ministers threatening to resign swirled in French media.

The French government had initially said this would be a carrot-and-stick legislation that would make it easier for migrants working in sectors that lack labour to get a residency permit, but would also make it easier to expel illegal migrants.

In order to gain support from the right, however, the government agreed to water down the residency permits measures, while delaying migrants’ access to welfare benefits – including benefits for children and housing allowances – by several years.

The French have long prided themselves on having one of the most generous welfare systems in the world, granting payments even to foreign residents, helping them pay rent or care for their children with means-tested monthly contributions of up to a few hundred euros.

The far right and, more recently, conservatives, have argued these should be reserved for French people only. The deal agreed on Tuesday would delay access to housing benefits for unemployed non-EU migrants by five years.

The compromise also introduces migration quotas, makes it harder for immigrants’ children to become French, and says that dual nationals sentenced for serious crimes against the police could lose French citizenship.

The deal, agreed by a special committee of seven senators and seven deputies, was initially good news for Macron, who had made the migration bill a key plank of his second mandate and could otherwise have had to shelve it.

Just six months before European Parliament elections in which immigration will be key, however, it could also boost Marine Le Pen who, sensing a political opportunity, called the rejigged bill “a great ideological victory” for her far-right party.

She announced her party would vote for the bill in the lower house, causing immense embarrassment to the left wing of Macron’s party, who find it unpalatable to vote in unison with the far right.

  • Reuters