France mustn’t be too ‘attractive’ warns Emmanuel Macron as he toughens immigration stance
Posted On July 2, 2020
President Emmanuel Macron ratcheted up his rhetoric on immigration on Wednesday, warning that France must not be too “attractive” for illegal migrants and “cannot host everyone”.
During his 2017 presidential campaign, Mr Macron heaped praise on the open door policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking in over a million refugees, saying it had "saved our collective dignity”.
But as he enters Act II of his five-year mandate, the centrist has toughened his discourse of late to ward off an electoral threat from the far-Right.
Speaking to French radio Europe 1 on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in New York, Mr Macron said: "In order to be able to welcome everyone decently, we shouldn’t be too attractive a country.”
His words follow figures showing that France last year received a record number of asylum requests, up almost 23 per cent compared to 2017.
OECD figures published earlier this month suggest that France and Spain were among the few countries globally who registered a major increase in asylum applications last year.
"France cannot host everyone if it wants to host people well," said the French president.
Mr Macron had already set the tone last week when he told MPs from the ruling La République en Marche party that its “humanist” approach was driving voters to the-Right. An opinion poll conducted by Le Monde found 64 per cent of French people no longer felt at home in their country.
Mr Macron said: “The question is whether we want to be a bourgeois party or not. The bourgeoise doesn’t have a problem with [immigration]. They never come across it. The working classes live with it.
“The Left has not wanted to look at this problem for decades. The working classes have therefore moved to the far right.”
He told MPs that Marine Le Pen’s far-Right party was “your only opponent on the ground”.
His comments came as the French parliament is set to start a major debate on migration policy next week.
Among the measures being planned is an immediate 25 per cent cut in the welfare payment of €6.80 (£6) a day received by asylum seekers, including those refused residency but who have lodged an appeal.
Critics say that free access to state healthcare is notably acting as a magnet to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.
Set up by a previous Socialist government, France’s healthcare programme for illegal immigrants benefits some 300,000 people at an annual cost of almost a billion euros. The Right and far-Right want it scrapped.
Speaking to Europe 1, Mr Macron said such a move would be “ridiculous”.
But he added: "We must evaluate it. We need a debate to assess what we do compared to our neighbours. Do we really have to fully reimburse everything? Aren’t there some excesses?"
Migrant aid groups have warned that shrinking this programme could pose dire health consequences both to the migrants and the wider public.
A total of 255,956 migrants were given residency permits in France last year, up 3.4 per cent compared with 2017. A further 123,625 made asylum claims, up 22.7 per cent. Another 100,000 EU citizens arrived to live in France.
Last week, Ms Le Pen said: “If we carry on like that, two million will have entered legally by the end of his term of office, not to mention the countless illegal immigrants.”