France’s Macron wants to take a tougher stand on immigration

French President Emmanuel Macron said France needs to toughen up on immigration. He argued that the government must end its current "lax" approach in order to stop voters from drifting to the far right.

France's Macron wants to take a tougher stand on immigration
Photo: AFP

Setting out his priorities for the second half of his mandate on Monday evening, Macron said that his centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party risked being seen as “bourgeois” unless it tackled the issue of immigration.

“By claiming to be humanist we are sometimes too lax,” he told a meeting of his ministers and ruling party representatives, claiming that France's asylum laws were being “misused” by people-smuggling networks and “people who manipulate” the system.

The question for his three-year-old party, which has struggled to establish a presence in small-town and rural France, was “whether we want to be a bourgeois party or not,” Macron was quoted by party members as telling the meeting.

“The bourgeois have no problem with this (immigration). They don't come up against it. The working classes live with it. For decades the left didn't want to deal with this problem so the working class migrated to the far right.”

“We're like the three little monkeys, we don't want to see,” he said, referring to the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” dictum represented by three monkeys with their hands over their eyes, ears and mouth. 

An Ispos/Sopra Steria poll on divisions in French society published Tuesday showed that 63 percent of respondents felt there were “too many foreigners in

Anti-foreigner sentiment was strongest among working-class respondents, with 88 percent saying they were too many immigrants.

Sixty-six percent also said they felt that immigrants did not try hard enough to integrate.

Chasing Le Pen voters

During the 2017 presidential campaign, Macron was fulsome in his praise of the welcome extended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to over a million
Syrian refugees, crediting her and the German people with having “saved our collective dignity.” 

But since coming to office, he has taken a tough line on so-called economic migrants who leave home in search of better opportunities abroad, drawing a
firm distinction between them and refugees fleeing war or persecution. 

France last year received a record 122,743 asylum requests, up 22 percent compared to 2017. 

“The entry flows into Europe have never been so low and the asylum requests have never been so high,” Macron complained on Monday, arguing that France
needed a system that was both “more efficient and more humane.” 


Macron's remarks saw him compared with former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, who also tried to court far-right voters while in office by talking tough on immigration but without significantly changing French laws.

Sarkozy later failed to secure his re-election. 

Jerome Sainte-Marie, president of Pollingvox research firm, warned that Macron risked setting a trap for himself. 

“Once you have talked about immigration, once you have launched that debate, people expect action,” he said. 

“Otherwise he will have the same difficulty with voters that Sarkozy had,” he said. 

French media and opposition parties see his latest remarks as linked to local elections next March and a signal that he is preparing to seek a second term in 2022.

Polls show that since 2017, Macron's core support has shifted from the centre towards the right.

“By sending a signal on immigration a few months before the local elections, he is trying to reassure this important part of his electorate,” Sainte-Marie said.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, whom Macron beat in 2017, was scathing of the president's tough-sounding rhetoric on an issue that has been her party's bread-and-butter for the last three decades.

“For the past two and a half years, he has seen nothing and heard nothing on the misuse of asylum laws,” she told BFM television Tuesday.

“Emmanuel Macron is clearly launching into the presidential election,” she said. 

A Communist member of the French Senate, Eliane Assassi, accused Macron of whipping up fear among voters about immigrants and warned him, referring to
the far right, that voters “prefer the original to the copy.”


Member comments

  1. Macron has always taken a tough stand on immigration! He’s always left it to Italy to take the immigrants in. Then when the immigrants are caught crossing the mountains between Ventimiglia and Nice, he sends them back to Italy. It’s a disgrace; Macron has hardly taken any immigrants. He always shifts the problem back to Italy or Spain.
    It was mentioned that Italy gets paid to take the immigrants in. If that’s true (a big IF), then why the hell not? Italy has been taking in immigrants for years at their own expense, despite asking Europe many times for help. Salvini almost had it sorted out….

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.