With Macron in the Élysée, what’s next for migration in France?

Emmanuel Macron of his En Marche! party won handily in Sunday’s runoff election, defeating far-right Marine Le Pen (formerly of Front National) with a margin of 66% to 34%, among people who voted for either candidate. The number of abstentions, blank or null votes was also significant, making up around 33% of registered voters. (Read our interview on the abstention debate here.)


Within our previous analyses, we noted that Macron does not suggest many changes to the migration system, and did not campaign as heavily on the topic as his opponent. Now that Macron will be president of France, what should people interested in migration be watching for?

How will Macron draw people with high education or special skills to France?

In his campaign proposals on immigration, Macron promises to introduce new types of visas for professionals, scientists, and creators while streamlining existing procedures to make it easier for Masters students, artists, entrepreneurs and other highly qualified people to come to France. He even took to youtube to invite American scientists to immigrate to France to fight against climate change.

But will he have a legislature willing to extend working rights to people who immigrate for these purposes? Will they be amenable to creating new visas? And will any highly-skilled people already in the country but lacking a visa be able to apply for such benefits?

Will Macron move to detain all people seeking asylum?

Among Macron’s promises on immigration is the pledge to reduce the time for people seeking asylum to receive decisions on their applications (which also presumably reduces the time for deportations. ) He suggests that detention is the best way to speed up the process. As we explained previously, European law is pretty solidly against universal detention of people seeking asylum.

Detaining all people seeking asylum (including, presumably, children) so that their applications can be handled more quickly might infringe on international law, and Macron may be called upon to give a different justification for such a policy, or to restrict it to certain types of people (such as, e.g., people considered flight risks or threats to public security.)

It will be interesting to see if Macron comes up against European law on asylum detention if and when he attempts to reform the asylum system.

Will he face opposition from both the right and the left?

Finally, it is very much worth watching France in the run-up to their parliamentary elections in June to see whether the energy stirred up in this contentious election campaign dissipates or builds. On the right, Marine Le Pen’s base is no doubt gratified by her best result ever and a respectably solid number of supporters that has been growing in recent years. Many may have realized that there is a pool of abstainers as well as plenty of smaller parties on the right that could be potentially persuaded to join a broad-based movement based on opposition to immigration and national identity. Will Le Pen now be able to build a movement outside of the Front National and persuade voters across the right to build a unified and vocal opposition?

On the other side, many of the the 33% of people who abstained or voted blank or null are probably supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and will present an additional layer of opposition to Macron’s centrist policies. With the traditional socialist party facing a historic defeat in the first round, and the far-left represented by Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France coming off an election high, will there be space for the left to come together to oppose both Macron’s neo-liberal policies and the growing influence of the far-right? Will the mainstream socialists be absorbed by En Marche, or Unsubmissive France?

These questions will probably play out over the next few years, but we’ll get our first clues when France goes to the polls once again in June.


Sources and Further Reading
Official Election Results 2017, French Ministry of Interior (French)
Results of the Second Round, Ipsos France (French)
Macron v. Le Pen on Migration, Asylum, and Integration. Migration Voter.
Macron’s Campaign Platform on Immigration, En Marche (French).
Macron’s Message to American Scientists, Youtube, May. 2017.
Cover Image via Laurie Shaull on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2pxHscc (CC by-SA 2.0)

INTERVIEW: John Mullen on the French Left and an alternative to fighting over abstention

The French presidential election is only days away and for many on the French left, the discussion is less about whether to vote for Marine Le Pen or Emmanuel Macron, but whether or not to vote at all.  A survey among members of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s organization showing that two-thirds intended to cast a blank vote or abstain sent panic through Europe- could Marine Le Pen end up the president of France because of indifference to Macron? Here at Migration Voter, we are somewhat biased towards voting, so we wanted to look into the question more deeply to see what we were missing and whether the press had been simplifying the view of supporters of Mélenchon and others who are opposed to Macron.

John Mullen, a historian, and activist on the French anti-capitalist left was kind enough to take some time to explain the debate and give us his unique take on what’s next for the divided French left. You can read more of Mullen on his blog.


There is currently a huge discussion on the French left over whether to support Emmanuel Macron or to abstain from voting entirely. Can you sum up for us what’s happening?

There’s a sort of generalized panic on the Left. Although we’ve known for months that it was very likely Marine Le Pen would make it to the second round, there’s been no preparation about what to do and what sort of slogans would pull people together in the event that she made it. Now there’s lots of very unfraternal debate going on.

Macron represents for working people exactly the type of policies that have allowed Le Pen to build up support. Year after year of redundancies, encouraging Islamophobia and reducing union rights have led to this situation where large sections of the population, especially the poorer parts, distrust the establishment completely and are therefore prepared to vote for someone who is essentially a fascist. And so the left is stuck in a situation where both candidates are pretty horrible and there is the tactical question of what to do.

What’s the downside of tactically voting for Macron?

Well, it’s tremendously important to see this from a collective point of view. A lot of the debate has been very individualistic. ‘I would feel dreadful if I abstained!’ ‘I would feel so filthy if I voted for Macron’, and that’s just the wrong question. The question is what campaign will allow the interests of working people and minorities to be moved forward. So I do not campaign to vote Macron, but I also do not campaign for abstention. This question is dividing people so much that the most important thing to do is to find slogans that will bring people together, and a whole number of unions have come up with “Not a Single Vote for Le Pen.” I think that’s a good slogan. .. We’re not campaigning for a vote for Macron, but we are campaigning for no votes for Le Pen and leaving the question of abstention open.

What about those who say that if enough people abstain, Le Pen will end up in the Élysée Palace by default?

I think the important thing to remember is that politics is not arithmetic. All of the Left organizations who’ve called for a vote for Macron have disappeared from the debate for these two weeks because it’s all been summed up by being for or against Macron.  The Left organizations who are fighting Le Pen but not calling for a vote for Macron have, in my opinion, a great advantage, because they are showing the world, and particular the people who are tempted by Le Pen, that Le Pen is not the only opposition to the free-market neoliberal policies that Macron represents. In fact, not campaigning for a vote for Macron actually makes Le Pen’s job harder.

So the strategy is, in a way, to make a point to the people who might be tempted to vote Le Pen, by providing an alternative to neo-liberal policies outside of Le Pen?

I think that the Insubordinate France movement is the reason that Le Pen got 21% and not 27% in the first round. Because the radical left program was able to pull people away from Le Pen in key areas. For example, among young adults and among unemployed people, Melenchon got more than Le Pen. And these are historically very strong areas for Le Pen. So, those of us around Mélenchon’s campaign are particularly furious with the campaign going on against Mélenchon, which suggests that he doesn’t care about fascism and so on.

Mélenchon’s immigration policies were by far the most favorable to migrants and refugees. But now we’re faced with Macron versus Le Pen, Macron continuing the status quo or going slightly stricter while increasing skilled migration, whereas Le Pen wants to do a lot to restrict migration, closing the borders, eradicating the possibility of seeking asylum from within the country, increasing police and border guards, and making other changes that would significantly impact people who immigrate and people of color. To not vote Macron because of economic issues and allow in Le Pen – do you think that is pushing economic issues and opposition to neo-liberalism above the safety of immigrants and people of color?

That sounds like a leading question.

Oh, it is!

I must admit I don’t know much about Macron’s immigration policies. I know something of his attitude towards racism, and interestingly enough, almost for accidental reasons, he has been a sort of modernizing wing of the right wing of the socialist party, who isn’t interested in rapidly whipping up Islamophobia, like Manuel Valls was. And Macron even said the other week that colonialism was a crime against humanity, it was absolutely stunning to hear a right-wing socialist leader say that! So he’s trying to renew and modernize a certain section of the discourse around human rights issues and racial equality issues because France has been very backward on that.

Obviously, the whole society is absolutely soaked in racism, but I don’t think it’s possible to separate out the economic opposition to Macron from the questions about racism, where Macron is not the major factor. I think it’s true that one of the reasons that Le Pen has grown so much is because of the disastrous attitude of almost the entire French left on Islamophobia.

So for example, counter-terrorism policies that have had a disparate impact on people of color- by pushing such policies the socialists have pushed people towards the right?

I think so, but even more, the direct Islamophobia. For example, last year we had a campaign by right-wing mayors who passed bye-laws to stop Muslim women from wearing full body swimsuits on beaches, and they were publicly applauded by the socialist prime minister.

Really? That’s surprising. We did see Macron in the debate agreeing that what Muslim women wear on the beach is a public order issue.

To be just to everyone concerned, Mélenchon was not very good on that either. He said we have to denounce both the right wing mayors who stop people from wearing what they want and the people who are selling burkinis because they want to push an Islamic fundamentalist agenda. Which is nonsense?

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the international scene. The conversation in France is reminiscent of the conversation on the Left in the US. Many people who supported Sanders felt it would be nearly as bad to vote for Clinton as Trump, Trump ended up winning and installing policies that both people who voted for Sanders and Clinton are totally appalled by, and the two sides still haven’t really come together. Is this a warning for the Left in France, or are the two situations incomparable?

I’m not convinced that Trump won because leftists were not enthusiastic enough about Clinton…  I would say that we’ve seen this before in France. In 2002 Jean-Marie Le Pen got through to the second round and almost the entire left supported the conservative Jacques Chirac against him, and we discovered that this total unity in the ballot box did not put a significant brake on the building of the fascist party in France. And I think we’re obliged to understand that it’s the long-term building of a national, broadly based anti-fascist campaign that can make a difference. And what we need to be looking at in any given political situation is what will help to build a radical left alternative that is active and exciting and going out there supporting strikes and anti-racist demos and demos to defend hospitals, etc., getting really involved in everyday life, and also involved in a national permanent anti-fascist campaign, which doesn’t exist in France. Today the working class is paying for the lack of that campaign, in my opinion.

Final question. Did you read Yanis Varoufakis’ endorsement of Macron?

Yes, I was horrified!

He wrote, “Is Emmanuel Macron worse, from the left’s point of view, then Jacques Chirac in 2002? If this isn’t the case, then why do certain leaders from the left today refuse to support Macron against Le Pen? For me, it’s a veritable mystery.” How do you respond to that?

The thing is that since 2002 in many elections- legislative, regionals and so on- we’ve had often had this huge pressure. ‘Oh, you must vote for the right against the fascists.’ And the result is, 20 years later, the fascists are stronger than ever. But what is interesting today is that when Jean-Luc Mélenchon had a consultation of 240,000 members of his organization, only a third wanted to vote for Macron. That’s not just because they’ve all gone mad. It’s because it is clear to a lot of people that Macron’s politics are the sort that will make fascism stronger. Although people are very frightened in case she wins, many are still favoring abstention.Although it must be said, lots of people who are in favor of abstention will change their mind on Saturday night. Because the pressure is huge.

I wondered whether it would be the opposite- that lots of people who were considering voting would end up getting turned off and staying home.

I don’t think so, the pressure on the television, in the press, on social media, in the workplace is huge, it’s absolutely stunning. And I remember in 2002 there was a huge amount of pressure, even though at the end Chirac got 80%!

I’m not campaigning for abstention because people are scared and I understand that. But I certainly can’t campaign for Macron because he doesn’t represent in any way a future that can cut the grass under fascism. I’m campaigning for no vote for the fascists, and get involved in left-wing politics.

Sources and Further Reading
Results of the Consultation on the Election. La France Insoumise (French).
A Radical Departure? Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party on migration and asylum. Migration Voter.
Macron v. Le Pen on immigration, asylum and integration. Migration Voter.
Emmanuel Macron calling colonialism a crime against humanity in interview. (Video) (French)
Manuel Valls speaking in favor of the burkini ban. La Provence (French), Aug. 2016.
Macron came to Greece’s aid during our crisis. The French left should back him. Yanis Varoufakis op-ed in The Guardian, May 2017.
Image via Jeanne Menjoulet on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2pd9Vmz (CC by 2.0)

Macron v. Le Pen on Immigration, Asylum and Integration

After lots of excitement in the final weeks leading up to the French election, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will proceed to the runoff, a result that was widely predicted and yet produced significant surprise when it actually came to be, given the current distrust in the accuracy of polls.

When it comes to immigration, the differences between the top two candidates are significant, although they are not as diametrically opposed to one another as, say, Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon. While Le Pen offers a vision of a dramatically altered immigration regime for France, Macron essentially makes some measured tweaks to the status quo, focused on making the country a more attractive immigration destination for certain types of people and making the asylum process more efficient. Let’s see where the candidates come down on some of the big questions surrounding immigration, asylum, and integration.

Immigration: Invite more students and skilled labor, or reduce across the board?

Le Pen’s overall approach to migration is restrictive, although she doesn’t eradicate it totally as she has suggested in some speeches. She promises to reduce legal immigration to a total of 10,000 people per year, and change the law to restrict family reunification and acquisition of citizenship through marriage or birth in France. She also wants to crack down on irregular as well as EU immigration by leaving the Schengen zone and reestablishing borders, while bolstering border forces and customs agents.

Macron does not get into many specifics about his intentions on all forms of legal immigration, leaving us to assume that he wants to maintain the law as it stands on issues like the acquisition of citizenship and family reunification. (In fact, he asserts that “fantasies” about family reunification are overblown: only 12,000 received family reunification visas in 2015, and of these the majority received them under international rather than domestic legal commitments.)

Instead, Macron focuses on students and other types of “knowledge” migration. He would introduce new types of visas for professionals, scientists, and creators while streamlining existing procedures to make it easier for Masters students, artists, entrepreneurs and other highly qualified people to come to France.  Once they get there, he also wants to make it easier for them to access the labor market.

Asylum: Incredibly restricted, or restricted?

Both Le Pen and Macron in some way want to bolster the existing asylum regime to make it faster (and easier to deport people who do not receive asylum.) Le Pen would recruit 6,000 new border officers over five years, alter the asylum system to only take place in French consulates but not on French territory, and expel everyone else. (As we have noted, as stated these two last points likely violate French domestic and international obligations.)

Macron advocates for a “dignified” system that is nevertheless “inflexible” with people who are not entitled to remain. This inflexibility is reflected in a much faster decision process: decisions on asylum applications should be reached in 8 weeks (it currently averages around 11 months) and judgments on appeals should take 6-8 weeks. In this same proposal, Macron implies (without stating outright) that he prefers people seeking asylum to remain in detention to help speed up the process.

Having the applicants on site greatly reduces the processing time (removal of unavailability and sickness, which involves one quarter of the cases, removal of travel costs) and eliminates the time and notification disputes.

This notion could be problematic under European and international law, so here we need a little detour to briefly discuss the legality of mass detention of people seeking asylum.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) lays out in their Detention Guidelines, detention is an extraordinary measure that must be proscribed by law and justified by some legitimate purpose, not merely for convenience in speeding up asylum application proceedings.

Detention can only be exceptionally resorted to for a legitimate purpose. Without such a purpose, detention will be considered arbitrary, even if entry was illegal.

The Council of Europe concurs, saying in a recommendation on the subject of detention that people seeking asylum, although non-citizens, are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights: “no one shall be deprived of his liberty save in exceptional cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law, as stipulated by Article 5.1.b. and f. of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

A recent case at the European Court of Justice (2016) reiterates these principles and applies them directly to EU member states like France, narrowing the scope of justification for the detention of people seeking asylum to cases where the individual him or herself (and not just his or her status) presents a danger to public order or national security. Below, part of the Court’s ruling from JN v. Staatssecretaris voor Veiligheid en Justitie:

“…keeping an applicant in detention under point (e) of the first subparagraph of Article 8(3) of Directive 2013/33 is, in view of the requirement of necessity, justified on the ground of a threat to national security or public order only if the applicant’s individual conduct represents a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat, affecting a fundamental interest of society or the internal or external security of the Member State concerned.”

Detaining all people seeking asylum (including, presumably, children) so that their applications can be handled more quickly might infringe on international law, and Macron may be called upon to give a different justification for such a policy, or to restrict it to certain types of people (such as, e.g., people considered flight risks or threats to public security.)

Integration: Everybody just speak French

One place where Le Pen and Macron both concur is on the need of newcomers and nationals to learn French. Macron would encourage this by giving every newcomer to France the “entitlement” to learn French to the level of B1. In practical terms though, this isn’t so much a right as a requirement, since he proposes making this language acquisition a condition of a residence permit.

Le Pen rejects the concepts of multiculturalism and prefers the standard of “assimilation” over integration. To this end, she wants to strengthen ties with French-speaking communities across the world, ensure that French is spoken in universities, and “ensure primary schools spend half their teaching time on teaching spoken and written French.”

An imbalance in the candidates’ focus

In sum, the major difference between Le Pen and Macron is their focus. Le Pen has made restricting immigration and asylum one of the cornerstones of her campaign, while Macron is far more focused on economic and social considerations. Will his lack of focus cost him at the polls? Or will French people reject the kinds of radical, across the board changes that Le Pen is running on? We will find out in two weeks.

Sources and Further Reading
Marine Le Pen’s 144 Presidential Commitments (English) (PDF)
Emmanuel Macron’s Immigration and Asylum Proposals (French)
Detention Guidelines. UNCHR, 2012.
Rec(2003)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures of detention of asylum seeker. Council of Europe, 2003.
J. N. v Staatssecretaris voor Veiligheid en Justitie Judgment, Court of Justice of the European Union, 2016.
Detention of Asylum Seekers: The First CJEU Judgment -Steve Peers on EU Law Analysis Blog.
Images: Macron via Ville de Nevers on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2plFT1E, (CC by NC-SA-2.0), Le Pen via Blandine Le Cain http://bit.ly/2qa7K4Q (CC by 2.0)