Right of asylum, immigration quotas, border controls.. a deep fracture has emerged between the candidates.
It’s a record in French history: France has recorded 85, 700 requests for asylum in 2016. Even if it’s small in relation to its neighbours Italy (121, 200) and Germany (722, 300), this influx of migrants, because of the war in Syria and historic conflicts or humanitarian situations (the Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti), have forced the question of the welcome that France can or should reserve at the centre of the presidential campaign.
But if the questions about borders, integration or identity have gained an important place in the campaign, the responses that the candidates have raised in their programmes are sparse (a hundred proposals to more than three thousand in total) and very polarised. A France open or closed, here are the main promises of the 11 candidates for the presidential election.
Borders in and around Europe
According to the Schengen agreement, all citizens can move freely within the eponymous zone (26 states of which 22 are part of the European Union). And on the exterior, the agency Frontex tries to maintain surveillance faced with the influx of migrants.
The borders question is typically an embarrassing one for candidates, outside the extreme right, faced simultaneously with the humanitarian crisis of the migrants, but also by the high-stakes surveillance of terrorist movements.
On the extreme right, the positions have the merit of clarity: Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Marine Le Pen think that control of immigration is no longer secured by Frontex and that they should exit Schengen to take back national borders, which would consequently be reinforced. They believe therefore six thousand customs posts should also be reinstated, according to the Front National candidate, which demands also the recall of the reservists.
Calling for a double layer of borders, Francois Fillon says he is in favour of staying in Schengen (and in tripling the budget of Frontex), but also to the “temporary reintroduction of controls on the interior borders” (an operation in reality already in place since the events of November 2015).
In opposition, there are those who think the actual borders of Schengen are already sufficient: Benoit Hamon, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon. But with certain nuances since Emmanuel Macron wanted to increase the powers of border guards and outposts in Europe, while Jean-Luc Melenchon wanted what he termed the “militarisation of the politics of controlling migration flows.”
The extreme left believes to want to abolish all borders, both on the interior and exterior of the European Union – say Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou, in a spirit which is “internationalist” and “in solidarity”.
The Right to Asylum
In the face of crowds of migrants, the practical application of the right to asylum, a principle enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution, is a question of debate among the political class. It is anyway on this question that ghost of the candidates’ previous promises looms largest: where Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou supported regularising all the sans-papiers, Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Dupon-Aignan want, in contrast, to make the conditions of asylum harder. The candidate from Debout la France is proposing a dozen measures to allocate a residence to asylum-seekers. The Front National candidate, le Pen, insists on the necessity of “making it impossible to regularise or naturalise foreigners in an illegal situation.”
Between these two opposing poles, two candidates declare they favour welcoming asylum-seekers, notably in instituting a humanitarian visa (Benoit Hamon) and in constructing welcome camps along international norms (Jean-Luc Melenchon). Three other candidates want to shorten the delay in the administrative response (Emmanuel Macron, Jacques Cheminade and Francois Fillon). It is therefore on the specific public services the refugees can access on which the majority of candidates have made promises.
In 2016, around 227 500 foreigners gained their first right to stay in France, an increase of 4.6% in relation to 2015. A rise which lies principally in admissions for humanitarian reasons. These permissions were not limited by quotas; France has never applied such a limitation, in contrast to the US for example. A majority of candidates are not in favour ( Nathalie Arthaud, Jacques Cheminade, Benoit Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Philippe Poutou).
Among them those who have no fixed position: Jean Lassalle and Francois Asselineau. This last is content to propose a referendum on the whole group of questions lying in various degrees in relation to the volumes of migrants – quotas, familial regroupment, right to own land…
Three candidates are in support of quotas. The most extreme position is, with no surprise, that of Marine Le Pen, who recommends “reducing legal immigration to an annual cap of 10 thousand (persons).” She is following on the platform of Francois Fillon, who wanted to inscribe it in the Constitution, and of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who wants “to vote annually in Parliament an immigration ceiling” related to the unemployment rate.
In 2006, Nicolas Sarkozy had already fostered support for establishing quotas, but this ambition faced opposition, risking the censure of the constitutional council, and was adjourned.
The Right of Soil
The right of earth consists of conferring French nationality on children born in France More precisely, a child born in France of foreign parents becomes automatically French on their 18th year, if they are in our country and have been more than five years; this has been true since 1515. Certain candidates propose to limit this opportunity (Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Francois Fillon), or aim to remove it (Marine Le Pen).
For the Front National, this represents making a kind of “acquisition of French nationality (is) possible just through filiation or naturalisation, for which the conditions are elsewhere more demanding”… that which can in many more complex cases, looks impossible. Not only for the French whose ancestors came from abroad several generations ago, but also for a number of other cases – pieds-noirs, those from Alsace, whose families were German at the beginning of the last century…
On the other side, Jacques Cheminade, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon want to preserve the right of soil. Four candidates have no position on this prickly subject: Nathalie Arthaud, Benoit Hamon, Jean Lassale and Philippe Poutou.