Fractious Immigration Vote Exposes Cracks in Macron’s Alliance


President Emmanuel Macron of France stood behind a tough immigration law that Parliament passed this week with unwanted support from the extreme right, causing fissures in his governing coalition.

Dozens of lawmakers voted against the new law, which also prompted Aurélien Rousseau, his health minister, to resign in protest. Still, Mr. Macron said he considered the law “a good law” in a television interview on Wednesday evening, calling it necessary to deal with the increasing pressure of migrants illegally entering the country.

“It is the shield we were missing,” he told “C à Vous,” a national television program.

“All the good souls who explain to me that what you are doing is not right — these are all the people who have governed for 40 years,” he added, assailing them for failing to act on issues like immigration and unemployment. “And what made extremist forces rise? That.”

No one in the government was irreplaceable, he said, “myself included.”

But later, with a steely flair, he added: “I still have three and a half years ahead of me. I have no intention of stopping.”

Passed late Tuesday night, the new immigration law reached into the heart of identity politics, which have been raging in France in recent years, with the increasingly powerful and popular far-right National Rally party riding its wave.

Originally designed to strike a difficult balance between toughness and openness, the final bill included snippets of many longstanding far-right stances on immigration. These include delaying foreigners access to state subsidies like housing aid or family allowances for several months or even years; toughening family reunification rules for immigrants; and forcing children born to foreigners in France to request French citizenship upon reaching adulthood, rather than having it granted automatically.

Many saw the law as further proof of a rightward shift for Mr. Macron, who was first elected in 2017 on a liberal platform that saw globalization and immigration as an opportunity and defended liberal democracy against populism. But his government has grown increasingly conservative since then.

“This is the end of what Macron represented as a political position,” said Vincent Martigny, a professor of political science at the University Côte d’Azur in Nice, France. “He broke the promise of the first mandate — to be the defender of liberal democracy versus populism. He’s shown his attachment to power is stronger than any of the values he promoted.”

Nearly one quarter of lawmakers in Mr. Macron’s own centrist coalition in the lower house of Parliament didn’t support the bill, either by voting against it or abstaining. Many were among the left-leaning members of Macron’s party, initially created by poaching lawmakers from the country’s Socialist party and right-wing Republicans and governed by the philosophy that ideas should be picked for their potency, not their underlining ideology.

Some explained that elements of the bill went against their core values.

“These are things that have been fundamental to the far right for years, which we never would have dreamed of taking up,” Gilles Le Gendre, a lawmaker and former head of Mr. Macron’s party who voted against the bill, said in an interview. “But the right, inspired by the extreme right, added many elements that weren’t in the original law, and that presented major problems of principle.”

Sacha Houlié, another lawmaker in Mr. Macron’s party and the leader of Parliament’s powerful law committee, called parts of the final law “excessively mean” in an interview with RTL radio.

“Honestly, it’s a form of the humiliation for the left of Macron’s party,” said Rémi Lefebvre, a professor of political science who studies Macronism and the left-wing parties at the University of Lille.

“The heritage of the left is openness and a respect for immigration. Some might believe in regulating immigration, or even limiting it, but not imposing these kinds of restrictions,” he said.

In many ways, Mr. Macron’s government is victim to the country’s confrontational parliamentary system. He does not hold an absolute majority in the lower house.

Earlier this year, fearing a rejection of his unpopular pension overhaul, which raised the legal retirement age to 64 from 62, Mr. Macron decided instead to force it through with a constitutional shoehorn that bypasses a vote in the lower house.

This time, the government was determined to work with Parliament, but the lower house outright rejected the bill when it was presented last week. A bicameral commission then worked on a compromise that granted concessions to the conservative Republican Party to ensure the bill was passed.

And the Republican Party’s positions on immigration have increasingly come to resemble those of the far right.

Before yesterday’s vote, Marine Le Pen, the parliamentary leader of the far-right National Rally, gleefully declared the law “a great ideological victory for our movement,” and her fellow lawmakers voted unanimously for it.

Mr. Macron’s government has dismissed their support.

Speaking on French radio Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said the bill would have passed without the far right’s enthusiastic last-minute votes, which she considered a “trap” intended to put the government in an awkward position.

She said she did not blame the members of Renaissance, Mr. Macron’s party, and its allies for voting against the bill and said the party would “obviously continue to talk and take on battles together.”

“There is no crisis of the majority,” she said.

Mr. Macron said he considered the bill a compromise, and that while he did not love all the measures in it, governing meant making choices in the best interest of the country.

However confident Mr. Macron seemed about the strength of his government, some wondered how hamstrung the president will be in the remainder of the second term, which ends in 2027, given the rebellion among his ranks.

Mr. Martigny, the professor, predicted the bill will spell the president’s doom, and that Mr. Macron will suffer a fate similar to former President François Hollande, who created a serious split in his party in 2015 with his proposal to strip dual nationals convicted of terrorism offenses of their French citizenship.

That proposal, put forth after the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s history, enjoyed huge support in opinion polls, but drew the condemnation of many of Mr. Hollande’s ministers and allies, who said it would create two classes of citizens, like in the dark days of World War II. Mr. Hollande later withdrew the plan, but the damage had been done.

“It will be a turning point in his mandate,” said Mr. Martigny, adding that he thought Mr. Macron would be reproached for the bill long after he leaves power. “I think it was a terrible mistake, on his behalf.”

From his position as a lawmaker, Mr. Le Gendre said, it was clear the party was facing a crisis. He hoped it would force the party to reset its course away from the right, and back toward its central origins — “looking for good ideas on the right and on the left.”

“What is the future of Macronism?” he asked. “If we continue this way, and reintroduce a division between right and left in our party, there will be two Macronist candidates in 2027.”

That, he predicted, would lead to “catastrophe” — meaning the election of Ms. Le Pen as president.

Though many believed Ms. Le Pen had emerged as the savvy political winner of the immigration bill, the law was hardly a blueprint of her party’s more radical proposals, said Jean-Yves Camus, the co-director of the Observatory of Radical Politics at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. Those proposals would have given French citizens priority for social housing and jobs, and completely barred foreigners from certain welfare benefits.

Still, decades of far-right growth have helped set the terms of the mainstream political debate on immigration, Mr. Camus said, as the right and even some within Mr. Macron’s own alliance believe they can beat the far right back by challenging it on its own turf and showing voters that they, too, can be tough on immigration.

“This law will enable us to fight against what fuels the National Rally,” Mr. Macron said in the television interview, arguing that many voters had turned to the far right because they felt French authorities were not efficiently combating illegal immigration.

Mr. Camus said that Mr. Macron “doesn’t want to be the president who hands over the keys of the Élysée to Marine Le Pen.”

But “history has shown that, as Jean-Marie Le Pen used to say,” he said, referring to Ms. Le Pen’s father and the longtime leader of the National Rally, “the French have always preferred the original to the copy.”


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