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French Senate sends migration bill to lower house after ‘toughening up’

By AFP - Nov 15,2023 - Last updated at Nov 15,2023

PARIS — France’s upper house Senate on Tuesday passed a bill aimed at controlling immigration, toughening the language and measures of the legislation in a manner likely to complicate the government’s search for compromise in the lower house.

Originally proposed by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government with a mix of steps to expel more undocumented people and improve integration, the text — voted through by 210 to 115 — now leans firmly towards enforcement after its passage through the Senate, which is controlled by the right.

“The Senate has restored the bill’s consistency by toughening it up,” said Bruno Retailleau, the head of the right-wing Republicans faction in the upper house.

Most bitterly contested was the government’s plan to offer a general right for undocumented migrants working in sectors with labour shortages to stay legally.

Right-wing senators have insisted there should only be “exceptional” case-by-case decisions.

Their version of the bill also further restricts the ability for migrants to bring family members into France, birthright citizenship and welfare benefits.

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.

The amendments have found favour with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who moved from the right to Macron’s camp early in his career.

He argues that its provisions would have allowed the expulsion of a young Russian who knifed a teacher to death in northern city Arras last month.

But its passage is far from assured in the National Assembly (lower house), where no side has a majority.

Sacha Houlie, a left-leaning MP in Macron’s Renaissance Party and head of the Laws Committee, has said that the body will restore “the entire original text” proposed by the government.

It remains unclear how hard the left-wing of Renaissance will push to reinstate its idea of a balanced law.

The bill is unlikely to pass in any form without support from the Republicans in the National Assembly, whose leader Olivier Marleix said on Tuesday that he wanted to “keep toughening up the text”.

“We have to get a bill revised on a few points that would allow some or all of the Republicans either to back it or abstain,” one minister told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Support is unlikely to come from other groups, with left-wing parties such as the Socialists and France Unbowed dead set against.

Socialist chief Olivier Faure on Tuesday called the bill “disgraceful”.

Ministers could yet pass the law using an unpopular constitutional mechanism to force it through on the back of a confidence vote.

Opposition parties would be unlikely to join forces across the political spectrum to unseat the government.


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