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France passes immigration bill despite Macron party rebellion

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France passes immigration bill despite Macron party rebellion

The immigration measures have been strengthened further since the bill was first introduced, with the left blaming the government of caving in to pressure from the far right

FP Staff December 20, 2023 07:53:37 IST France passes immigration bill despite Macron party rebellion

French president Emmanuel Macron. AP

The French parliament passed an immigration law endorsed by President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Tuesday, despite a strong rebellion within his own party over the far right’s backing for the harsher legislation.

The measure was approved by a large majority in the lower chamber, and the ruling party did not require the cooperation of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) to pass it.

The immigration measures have been strengthened further since the bill was first introduced, with the left blaming the government of caving in to pressure from the far right.

The improved law was backed by Le Pen, but major left-wing members of Macron’s Renaissance Party and associated groups signalled they could no longer support it, with several ministers threatening to resign.

“We can rejoice in ideological progress, an ideological victory even for the National Rally, since this is now enshrined into law as a national priority,” said Le Pen, a three-time presidential candidate who leads the RN’s lawmakers in parliament and is widely expected to stand again for president in 2027.

The RN had previously said it would vote against the bill or abstain. French media dubbed her surprise move a “kiss of death” for Macron’s party.

The bill had been voted down without even being debated in the National Assembly last week, in a major blow to Macron.

The upper-house Senate had earlier also passed the legislation, which then went through the lower house with 349 in favour and 186 against.

‘Moment of dishonour’

A key element of the law is that social security benefits for foreigners will now be conditioned on five years of presence in France, or 30 months for those who have jobs.

Migration quotas can also now be agreed and there are measures for dual-national convicts being stripped of French nationality as well.

Prominent left-leaning Renaissance MP Sacha Houlie had said he would vote against the legislation and called on others to follow, with some sources saying that around 30 pro-Macron MPs would do so.

In a sign of the seriousness of the situation, Macron called a meeting of his ruling party at the Elysee palace ahead of the vote, party sources told AFP.

According to a participant at the meeting, Macron said he would submit the bill to a new reading rather than promulgate it if it were passed only with the help of the votes from Le Pen’s RN.

Health Minister Aurelien Rousseau, Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retailleau and Housing Minister Patrice Vergriete met Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and warned they could resign, sources told AFP.

“The majority has stood together, the far right’s plan has failed,” Borne said on social media platform X after the vote.

Rousseau delivered a letter of resignation on Tuesday evening to Borne, who did not say whether she would accept it, according to a ministerial source confirming a report by the daily Le Figaro.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, an ambitious 41-year-old who has spearheaded the legislation, had warned Sunday that Le Pen risked winning the 2027 presidential election if the bill were not passed.

The left and hard-left had reacted with horror to the prospect of the legislation being passed, with the head of Socialist lawmakers in the National Assembly, Boris Vallaud, calling it a “great moment of dishonour for the government”.

Passing the legislation was critical for Macron, who cannot stand again in 2027 after two consecutive terms and risks being seen as a lame duck with more than three years left of his term.

The government has not had a majority in parliament since the legislative elections that followed his re-election in 2022.

‘Moment of truth’

“The political crisis around the immigration bill is a moment of truth where all the fragilities of Emmanuel Macron’s mandate are coming together,” the Le Monde daily said in an editorial.

Dozens of NGOs slammed what they described as potentially the “most regressive” immigration law in decades.

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,” around 50 groups including the French Human Rights League said in a joint statement.

“With this text directly inspired by RN pamphlets against immigration, we are facing a shift in the history of the republic and its fundamental values,” French Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel said.

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