The French lower house of parliament was set on Monday to begin debating a bill seeking to tighten immigration rules criticised by both the far-right and hard-left in a major test for the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
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Originally proposed by Macron‘s centrist government with a mix of steps to expel more undocumented people and improve integration, the text now leans firmly towards enforcement after its passage through the Senate, which is controlled by the right.
Speaking during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Sunday, Macron said that forgetting about the right of asylum would be a mistake.
“France retains its long tradition of providing asylum for all those whose rights are threatened in their own country, and we will continue to defend this right of asylum,” he said.
“To think that we can solve our contemporary problems by forgetting these rights, which are the very foundation of our Republic in France, but also of the very identity of our Europe, would be not just a political mistake, but a moral one.”
From 4:00 pm (1700 GMT), Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin will at the National Assembly defend the bill which now further restricts the ability for migrants to bring family members into France, birthright citizenship and welfare benefits.
However, lawmakers were expected to vote on a rejection motion earlier put forward by the Greens.
If the entire opposition supports the motion, it could be adopted and interrupt the examination of the 2,600 or so amendments. The text of the bill could then be sent back to the Senate.
The government could also decide to withdraw the text because the rejection motion would be a major setback.
‘Denial of democracy’
“It would be a denial of democracy not to debate” the bill, Darmanin told Europe 1 radio on Monday.
The National Assembly speaker, Yaël Braun-Pivet, speaking on RTL, added: “It would be incomprehensible, the Assembly would shoot itself in the foot.”
The passage of the bill is far from assured in the French parliament’s lower house, where no side has a majority.
It is unlikely to pass in any form without support from the conservative Republicans (LR) in the National Assembly.
Darmanin sought to put pressure on the Republicans by highlighting the lifting of protections enjoyed by foreigners who arrived in France before the age of 13 or have been resident there for more than twenty years.
“If the LR don’t vote for the text that allows 4,000 delinquent foreigners a year to be expelled, what are they going to tell their voters?”, Darmanin said.
Far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen said her National Rally (RN) deputies did not support the proposed legislation.
This has intensified speculation that the government could once again opt to trigger article 49.3 of the constitution which allows it to pass legislation without a vote, as it did with contentious pension reforms earlier this year.
But the government wants to avoid wielding this widely-unpopular constitutional hammer which can also trigger a no confidence vote.
The bill also aims to speed up asylum application procedures, facilitate the expulsion of foreigners deemed dangerous and regularise the status of undocumented workers in sectors with labour shortages.
It would introduce an annual quota for the number of migrant arrivals to be set by parliament, and remove all but emergency medical coverage for undocumented people.