The assassination of teacher Dominique Bernard on October 13, in Arras, by an Islamist terrorist, reopens poorly healed wounds. It also seems to definitively endorse the toughening of the government’s immigration and integration bill. This, discussed in the coming weeks in Parliament, has experienced a chaotic journey since its presentation to the Council of Ministers on February 1, 2023. Never clear, its contours and its timetable have come up against the pension reform, the social discontent which followed by the urban riots of the summer, recent terrorism… The stages of the multiple twists and turns of a sensitive issue.
How far gone are the days when Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior, presented the broad outlines of the law with the Minister of Labor, Olivier Dussopt. It’s last winter, the first is supposed to embody firmness, the second openness. “Initially, the government wants to present a balanced project,” explains Arnaud Benedetti, editor-in-chief of the Political and Parliamentary Review. “This involves taking into account public demand for better control of borders and at the same time, “listen to the demands of business circles to regularize undocumented workers in professions in shortage”, that is to say those which are recruiting, such as the hotel and catering industry or personal services. The atmosphere around the text does not appear tense, it is supposed to be discussed in the National Assembly at the end of May and Gérald Darmanin mentions possible “compromises” with the oppositions.
But woes. In the spring, violence in demonstrations against pension reform increased in intensity. Emmanuel Macron believes that the social climate no longer allows for calm debates around immigration, an inherently divisive subject. In March, then in April, in the press, he announced the postponement of the law until the summer. Élisabeth Borne agrees: “This is not the time to launch a debate that could divide the country,” judges the Prime Minister. But in July, six days of urban riots ignited French cities. Public opinion stiffened. 59% of French people consider that “we must toughen up” the immigration bill “because the riots are the consequence of the failures of our migration policy”.
Eric Ciotti’s Republicans are taking advantage of this to put pressure on the government. They know that their favorable vote is essential to passing the law through Parliament. The right-wing party is demanding a reduction in the number of residence permits issued, toughening the conditions for family reunification, restricting reimbursements of health costs to foreigners in an irregular situation or submitting migration policy to a referendum.
Emmanuel Macron seems, at first, to hear this last request. During the meetings in Saint-Denis with party leaders on August 30, he talked about making it his own… knowing that such a referendum would not happen right away. “It’s a way of saving time,” says Luc Rouban, political scientist at Cevipof. “In any case, on such a complex subject, what simple question do you want to ask the French?”
Towards a fifteenth 49.3?
At the start of the school year, observing the executive taking care of the right, the social wing of the majority decided to make itself heard and build bridges with the left. On September 11, around thirty parliamentarians ranging from Renaissance to communists to ecologists signed an article in Libération to “request urgent, humanist and concrete measures” for the regularization of undocumented workers.
But for the government, the emergency lies elsewhere. After the Arras attack on October 13, which saw a registered foreign terrorist kill a professor, Gérald Darmanin toughened his mind. The Minister of the Interior is now considering extending the maximum detention period for S files and delinquents to eighteen months. At the same time, he is starting to step back on the creation of a “jobs in tension” residence permit. The precise contours of the project are still unknown but if LR does not come on board, a fifteenth use of article 49.3 seems likely. According to Luc Rouban, this political sequence could once again benefit the RN: “Faced with all these changes, the National Rally will have a good time arguing that it has much simpler and radical solutions.”
28 immigration bills have been passed by Parliament since 1980. This would be the 29th.