That’s It, Marine Le Pen Is Writing France’s Laws Now

She’s claimed an ‘ideological victory’.

by Cole Stangler

25 December 2023

Marine Le Pen, a woman with blonde hair, sits among red seats
Marine Le Pen in France’s national assembly, December 2023. Xose Bouzas/Reuters

If historians are ever tasked with documenting the far-right’s march to power in 21st-century France, the immigration bill passed last week – described by French human rights groups as “the most regressive bill of the past 40 years for the rights and living conditions of foreigners” – will go down as a turning point.

For while an increasingly rightwing and well-funded press has helped shift the country’s ideological centre of gravity in recent years, and French president Emmanuel Macron has gradually embraced talking points once confined to the conservative fringes, never before has the president offered Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party the power to directly shape national policy. Soon after the vote came in on Tuesday evening, Le Pen claimed an “ideological victory” – and she was absolutely right.

One of the most talked-about measures in the new legislation is its clamping down on France’s historic policy of birthright citizenship, which has been in place since 1889 and which RN has long sought to repeal.

Currently, a child born on French soil to foreign parents and who resides regularly in France automatically obtains nationality at age 18. Under the new law, the same individual will have to formally request nationality between the ages of 16 and 18, a requirement that could deny citizenship to those inadequately informed of the changes.

The legislation also restricts the ability of immigrants to access a number of welfare programs, moving towards the system of “national preference” promoted by the RN’s Holocaust-denying founder and Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Today, rental assistance, childcare benefits and subsidies for seniors are open to all, regardless of nationality. To qualify under the new law, non-EU foreigners must either have five years of residency or proof of employment for two and a half years (three months of employment will suffice for rental aid).

The law is particularly dangerous for France’s roughly 700,000 undocumented immigrants. While offering undocumented workers in high-demand occupations a path to residency, it also reintroduces a law abolished by former president François Hollande to allow police to fine people up to €3,750 if they are found to be in the country unlawfully, and increases sanctions on businesses employing undocumented workers.

The rest of the law is a potpourri of xenophobic cruelty, elements of which may not withstand scrutiny from France’s constitutional council. Foreign students will have to fork over security deposits to obtain visas. Parliament will impose annual immigration quotas. Immigrants will need to wait 24 months – not 18 – before requesting family reunification. Authorities can strip dual nationals of French citizenship if they are convicted of murdering a state official.

The far-right did not force Macron to do any of this – it was the president and his allies who pushed this legislation. After the national assembly shot down an initial immigration bill crafted by Macron’s interior minister Gérard Darmanin, the president and his cabinet could have accepted defeat and moved on. Instead they turned to the senate, controlled by rightwing party The Republicans, and came back with an even harsher proposal. After MPs from his own coalition voiced reservations about the new bill and far-right leader Marine Le Pen publicly gave it her blessing, Macron had yet another chance to back down – but ploughed ahead anyway, relying on 88 votes from RN to overcome the noes and abstentions from his own party.

Even as it became clear that the bill’s anti-immigrant excess conflicted with France’s business interests – the extra paperwork and cash demanded of foreign students won’t exactly help recruit talent from abroad – the president refused to change course. A last-minute outcry from France’s universities and tepid criticism from the head of France’s top business lobby – key constituencies for Macron, a former investment banker who famously pledged to make the French economy more competitive – weren’t enough to get the president to back down.

The law’s passage reflects an Elysée captured by right-wing zealotry. Of course, Macron and his supporters have sounded anti-immigrant dog-whistles for years: his education ministers have warned of the dangers of “Islamo-leftism”; his interior minister complained about Halal sections in supermarkets and argued that the nation is “becoming savage”, while Macron himself has lamented the supposed “de-civilisation” of France. The list goes on and on.

But crude as these interventions were, many pundits argued they were a strategic ploy to boost Macron and his allies ahead of the 2022 elections and to inflict damage on rival parties – namely the Republicans. At key junctures, Macron made pleas to the left: before last year’s presidential run-off against Le Pen, Macron once again emphasised the fundamental differences between him and his challenger, playing up his commitment to climate issues and opposition to a radical proposal to ban wearing the Islamic veil in public. Addressing leftwing voters in his victory speech, Macron promised the vote would “oblige” him “for the years to come” – a vague pledge to account for their support. It’s now clear that was an empty promise.

Thanks to this bill, deeply discriminatory, anti-immigrant policies that belie the universalist motto of French republicanism – liberté, égalité, fraternité – will forever be a part of Macron’s legacy. He will go down in history as the president who gifted the National Rally one of its greatest-ever triumphs. When Macron’s allies aim to mobilise French voters against the RN in the coming years, many will rightly wonder: what distinguishes them from Le Pen’s camp?

It’s too soon to measure the political fallout for Macron, but internal tensions have spilled out into the open. Macron’s health minister Aurélien Rousseau resigned shortly after the vote, declaring it was “clinically not possible” for him “to explain” the law. This in addition to the more than 50 MPs in the government’s coalition who had already declared themselves unwilling to back the bill. There is always the possibility of Macron dissolving the national assembly, which would spell new legislative elections.

But from this point forward, there should be no more illusions: the president takes progressive voters for fools and has little interest in defending the core values of the French Republic against those who’ve long sought to undermine them. Not only has Macron failed to stem the rise of the far-right, he’s already letting them govern.

Cole Stangler is a journalist based in Marseille and the author of Paris is Not Dead: Surviving Gentrification in the City of Light.

We’re up against huge power and influence. Our supporters keep us entirely free to access. We don’t have any ad partnerships or sponsored content.

Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.

We’re up against huge power and influence. Our supporters keep us entirely free to access. We don’t have any ad partnerships or sponsored content.

Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.