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Migrants Sent to the Countryside: Macron Proposes a New Immigration Policy by Hélène de Lauzun

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Migrants Sent to the Countryside: Macron Proposes a New Immigration Policy

Emmanuel Macron has announced his intention to tackle the thorny issue of immigration in France and has just promised a major reform of the reception of foreigners. The solutions he is proposing have aroused opposition from the Right.

There have been 28 laws on the subject of immigration in France since 1980, and none have found a sustainable and satisfactory policy to be kept. According to Macron, there are two main areas that call for vigorous reform: the right of asylum and the distribution of the reception of foreigners throughout the country. He explained his plan in a press conference held at the Elysée Palace on Thursday, September 15th, during which he presented the new priorities of his five-year term. The necessary, and often postponed, reform of pensions was also put on the agenda, without much detail or plan for implementation.

Emmanuel Macron wants to move quickly on immigration and announced that a bill would be presented to parliament in early 2023.

He judged the current policy—although he reformed it during his first term in office in 2018—to be both “inhumane and ineffective:” “ineffective because we end up with more foreigners in an irregular situation than many of our neighbours, and inhumane because this pressure means that they are too often badly received.” 

The initial observation is unanimously shared, but Macron’s proposed ways of working to remedy it have given rise to strong criticism. 

On the issue of reception, Emmanuel Macron wants to improve the policy of granting visas in a “spirit of cooperation to take back illegal foreigners, starting with those who disturb public order.” The French president thus criticises countries that refuse to issue the consular passes needed to expel undesirable immigrants, as was recently the case with Morocco and fundamentalist Imam Iquioussen. Algeria is also often at fault in this regard.

On the other side of the reform, in order to integrate immigrants who arrive able to speak French and find work more quickly as a result, Macron advocates their installation in rural areas, precisely “rural areas that are losing population.” He wants to avoid the concentration of new arrivals in the outskirts of large cities, which are already poor and saturated. The phenomenon is well known: immigrants prioritise these areas because they will find their compatriots there in large numbers, and will be able to benefit from a local support network, facilitating their arrival. Macron believes that this logic must come to an end, as it clogs up neighbourhoods that can no longer accommodate new arrivals with dignity. 

If the president’s intention seems laudable in theory, the dangers of his proposal are numerous, his opponents point out. Geographer Laurent Chalard reminds in Le Figaro that this initiative has already been implemented, without success, during the time of François Hollande: then, immigrants sent to small villages did not stay there and joined the urban centres en masse. Moreover, Macron’s plan would spread the problems observed in the suburbs of large cities to the whole of France, including areas that had been relatively spared the problems of instability or communitarianism. The expert Chalard adds: “The settlement of poor people would only reinforce the social difficulties experienced in rural areas and would contribute to the already high scores of the Rassemblement National.”

Indeed, the president of the RN group in the National Assembly Marine Le Pen has vigorously opposed Emmanuel Macron’s project, which she describes as a “new madness.” The solution put forward by the Rassemblement National is simple, she said. The place of foreigners is not in the French countryside, but back home. 

Les Républicains (LR) also reacted by strongly criticising the reform proposal. “Wanting to move the problems linked to immigration to rural areas is heresy and cowardice,” exclaimed Éric Ciotti, candidate for the presidency of the governmental right-wing party. The same was echoed by his rival Bruno Retailleau, leader of the LR senators: “In Emmanuel Macron’s wonderful world, immigration is never a problem, all territories must be able to benefit from it,” he ironically said. “This ostrich policy leads us inexorably to disaster.” Reconquête, Éric Zemmour’s party, also denounced “the great replacement” wanted and enacted by the President of the Republic. 

By promoting this solution, Macron is showing his explicit support for the thesis defended at the European level, according to which the deficit in demographic dynamism must be compensated for by a massive influx of immigrants, in defiance of the revival of the national birth rate—without taking into account the perverse effects, in cultural and religious terms, of this influx of often non-European and Muslim population.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).