Macron's immigration bill at mercy of French parliament without majority

  • World
  • Monday, 11 Dec 2023

French police stand in position near the National Assembly as protesters gather before the start of a debate on the immigration law in Paris, France, December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

PARIS (Reuters) - French lawmakers will decide on Monday whether to cut short any debate on the government's immigration bill, which would effectively send flagship legislation back to the drawing board.

The immigration bill has been a key plank of President Emmanuel Macron's attempts to show he can be tougher on law and order issues while keeping France's doors open to foreign workers who can help the French economy.

But short of a majority in parliament, he has struggled to pass a bill that has strict provisions disliked by left-wing lawmakers and more liberal aspects criticised by some conservatives and the far right.

Opposition parties such as the conservative Les Republicains are under pressure to approve a bill that broadly reflects their party's long-standing positions on immigration, but they are reluctant to hand the government a political victory.

The Green party has tabled a motion that will be reviewed later on Monday and would reject the bill before discussions in the lower house have even started, in a bid to embarrass the bill's defender, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

"That would be a denial of democracy," Darmanin, who is known to harbour ambitions for the next presidential vote due in 2027, said on Europe 1 radio on Monday.

Other opposition parties such as Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National have yet to say whether they would support that motion.

The parliamentary session opens at 1500 GMT, when lawmakers will vote on the Green motion. If it is not rejected, and the outcome at this stage is not clear, debates over the substance of the plan will start.

If the debate is halted by the vote, the government could decide to send it back to the Senate, where it has already been approved and toughened.

It could also set up a joint committee of senators and deputies tasked with finding a compromise. Or it could pull the bill, which is unlikely. Even if debate is allowed, the legislation could still fail or be amended down the line.

The government has presented the bill as essential to expel foreign criminals more easily. One provision removes a ban on expelling those migrants who arrived in France before the age of 13, as was the case for the alleged Russian-born Islamist militant who killed a French teacher in October.

Other provisions that have been hotly debated are whether non-EU migrants should continue to get access to free medical coverage in France, as well as the government's aim to facilitate the legalisation of workers in industries suffering from labour shortages such as cafes and restaurants.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Alison Williams)

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