In what is seen as a painful blow to French President Emmanuel Macron’s standing, a bill that seeks to better control immigration and improve integration has been voted down by the French Parliament.
The no-vote came as a surprise and led to the French interior minister Gérald Darmanin, who championed the bill, to offer his resignation, which Macron turned down.
As the plenary discussion on the law began on December 11, the Parliament voted for a motion of rejection, with 270 votes in favour and 265 against, tabled by The Greens.
Support for the migration bill dwindled from the centre-right in Parliament as adjustments were made at the behest of “progressives”.
Un moment historique: Le projet de #LoiImmigration est rejeté! À force d'utiliser le 49.3, le gouvernement a échoué.
👉E. Macron doit maintenant organiser un référendum sur l’immigration.#MotionDeRejet #LoiImmigration #Darmanin #GouvernementDeTromperie pic.twitter.com/Mv8NL4y1f7
— Isabelle Savoie (@IsabelleSvi) December 12, 2023
On the evening of the same day, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne held an emergency meeting with ministers involved in the controversial immigration bill.
It will now go before a joint committee, Government spokesman Olivier Véran announced at the end of a special Council of competent ministers on Tuesday. That means Senators and representatives, seven each, now will need to find a new agreement.
Darmanin lamented Monday’s events as a “denial of democracy”.
On December 12, he said he hoped “firm measures” against “illegal immigration” and “crime by foreigners” would be adopted “by the end of the year”.
His call came as France is still reeling from a rash of terrorist attacks and criminal assaults.
The parties opposing the bill were, for different reasons, happy with the result.
“We will spare the country two weeks of xenophobic and racist rhetoric,” said Mathilde Panot, president of the Assembly’s far-left LFI group.
LFI MEP Manon Aubry described the outcome as a “victory for human rights and total debacle for ‘Macronie’!”
Leader of The Greens Marine Tondelier said: “Immigration would not have changed anything in the day-to-day lives of the French, but it would have done a great deal of harm to those seeking refuge.”
Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing Rassemblement National, said she was “delighted” that the rejection resolution was passed and said the bill was “pro-immigration”.
She was also seen apparently mocking Darmanin in Parliament.
Her party colleague Jordan Bardella went a step further and called for “the dissolution of the National Assembly” in the wake of the Government’s failure on its immigration bill, which he said represented “a major political crisis”.
Eric Ciotti, leader of the centre-right Les Républicains (LR) said under Darmanin, France suffered “more violence, more insecurity, Islamic ‘communitarism’ and [record levels] of legal and illegal migration.”
Olivier Marleix, group leader for LR in Parliament, said the migration bill wanted to please both the Left and the Right, which he said was impossible.
“We cannot make a text that tries to tighten the rules and undo everything in the Law Commission by relying on Nupes and France Insoumise!” he stressed.
When the original text passed in the French Senate, it was with the help of RN. But in the vote on December 11, party members opposed it as changes were made.
They said they saw a flaw with “unacceptable measures”, notably “the mass regularisation of foreigners”.
“500,000 foreigners, the equivalent of a city like Toulouse, have been welcomed in France this year. That is three times fewer foreigners deported than under Sarkozy,” said Marleix.
“Mr Darmanin has unravelled the Senate text through an alliance Renaissance-France Insoumise,” he said, adding that the interior minister had a “permanent double tongue” on immigration.
“We cannot be a text of Left and Right at the same time, otherwise it is mush,” he said.
The French Government is trying to get a handle on migration just as Rassemblement National and Le Pen are surging in the polls ahead of the European elections in June 2024.
Among hot topics regarding immigration and the migrant situation, the expulsion of dangerous foreign criminals is high on the agenda.
On the same day as the bill was voted down, news broke that France had been forced by the courts to take back a foreigner suspected of Islamist radicalisation and who had been sent home to Uzbekistan.
The ruling came as the judges decided his life was in danger in his native country.