Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France in 2017 promising to break the mould of French politics with its see-saw left-right swings. He claimed this was the best strategy for countering the rise of Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, the Rassemblement National (‘National Rally’), formerly known as the Front National (‘National Front’).
The result has been a progressive drift towards the right, and a slow capitulation to authoritarian and nationalist policies. The latest chapter in this alarming story is the Loi Immigration voted by the French parliament in December.
Some provisions of the law have been blocked by the constitutional council, whose role is to vet laws to ensure they are in line with the French constitution.
Key provisions have been blocked on technicalities or on legal substance but, politically, the passing of the law by parliament, with the votes of its deputies, represents a major ideological victory for the Rassemblement.
The measures – which have been temporarily suspended, but which may resurface with amendment – include:
Stricter conditions for obtaining and retaining French nationality:
Until now, children born in France of foreign parents gain French nationality automatically, through droit du sol [‘right of the soil’ or ‘birthright’ – ed]. This principle – meaning nationality is not hereditary but based on birth in France – has been in force throughout the Fourth and Fifth French republics (in other words, since 1945). The new law foresees substantial restrictions on this right.
Restrictions on the right of immigrants to bring husbands/wives and children:
Restrictions already exist on ‘family regrouping’. The new law would introduce additional constraints: an immigrant would have to live for a longer time in France, and be older, in order to gain this right.
Differentiation between immigrants and French people in access to certain benefits:
Currently, legal immigrants arriving in France have an automatic right to certain benefits available to all French citizens – in regard to housing and healthcare in particular. The new law would restrict benefits to immigrants legally settled in France for at least 2.5 years (if they are working) or for five years (if they are unemployed).
The third of the above measures represents a significant concession to the demand of the Rassemblement National for ‘national preference’: French people should have more rights, more protection, and more generous benefits than immigrants.
Macron’s strategy towards the extreme (increasingly the mainstream) right has become a story of ‘achieving victory by capitulating’.