The three far-right candidates in the French presidential election – Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan – have made immigration their main electoral issue. They all want to abolish State Medical Aid, birthright citizenship and family reunification. But are their proposals actually feasible?
Éric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan are the main right-wing extremists in the running for the French presidential election of 2022. They share a large number of proposals to fight illegal immigration.
Dupont-Aignan is particularly aggressive on this subject, with about twenty different suggestions to stop immigration, while the other two have roughly half his amount in their manifestos.
There are several ideas shared by all the far-right candidates. But are any of them possible? InfoMigrants investigates.
Abolish State Medical Aid (AME)
What is the AME? French State Medical Aid (AME) is intended for foreign nationals living irregularly in France (excluding Mayotte) who have been in France for more than three months and whose resources are limited. This system allows foreigners living in France irregularly to have access to free health care without having to pay in advance.
What they say: "The AME is a bottomless pit (...) The financial burden of this care reserved for illegal immigrants is staggering," tweeted Le Pen on September 22, 2021.
"The hospital is absolutely besieged by a population from all over the world, which it is forced to treat at our expense. I think that this is one of the first measures to take: that is to say to remove the AME (...) That the French hospital ceases to be the hospital of all Africa, I think it will alleviate our costs," said Zemmour on October 16 during a visit to Béziers.
What they propose: Le Pen, Zemmour and Dupont-Aignan want to abolish State Medical Aid.
Is this feasible? In theory yes, even if this system is a necessary public health measure: migrants who arrive illegally in France often have a fragile state of health. The existence of the AME allows them to be treated but also to protect the whole population by limiting the risks of spreading diseases.
In 2022, the budget for the AME will amount to €1 billion according to the finance bill presented in September by the French government. This total has doubled since 2015. But in reality, this billion represents less than 1% of the €230 billion of health insurance expenditure. It is a drop in the ocean, therefore, which is not the cause of the saturation of hospitals.
Abolish 'ius soli' – birthright citizenship
What is it? According to article 21-7 of the Civil Code, any child born in French territory (except Mayotte) of foreign parents acquires French nationality on reaching the age of majority. This article is based on the principle of 'ius soli', sometimes called birthright citizenship.
This right is not automatic, contrary to what the extreme right may suggest. The young person must meet two strict criteria: they must reside in France when they reach the age of 18 and they must have remained there for at least five years since the age of 11. The child can also become French at the age of 13, on the request of his or her parents.
What they say: "Repeal the 'ius soli', strict conditions of assimilation, prohibition of 'positive discrimination': we want to guarantee the French people the right to remain themselves," said Le Pen on September 28, 2021 at a press conference.
"Unlike Ms. Pécresse, I will abolish the 'ius soli', I will abolish family reunification, I will expel foreign offenders, I will strip bi-national offenders of their French nationality and I will expel them," stated Zemmour on March 10 on French television channel LCI.
What they propose: Le Pen and Zemmour want to outright abolish birthright citizenship, just like Dupont-Aignan who proposes to do it following a referendum.
Is this feasible? Legally, the 'ius soli' can be repealed by a simple law. But in practice, it is more complicated. Abolishing it would create stateless people: the child would be neither French nor of the nationality of his or her parents. Yet France is a signatory to international conventions that prohibit the creation of stateless persons on its territory.
Abolish family reunification
What is family reunification? The procedure allows a foreigner with a residence permit in France to bring his or her family to France legally. Applications for family reunification require a certain number of resources and housing criteria to be met and can take several years.
In practice, family reunification concerns very few people. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, 12,113 people received it, a stable number compared to 2018.
What they say: "Family reunification with immigration from the Maghreb and Africa then becomes an immigration of settlement. Young people arrive with their own morals and form gangs," claimed Zemmour on French television channel CNews on March 22, 2021.
"I will solve the problem of immigration with a ready-made project, which contains the abolition of the right to family reunification, the end of the automatic acquisition of nationality, the deportation of foreign criminals and delinquents," said Le Pen on February 20 on France Info radio station.
What they propose: Zemmour and Le Pen want to abolish family reunification, while Dupont-Aignan wants to suspend it for five years.
Is this feasible? It would be very complicated for France to abolish family reunification. The measure is governed by European law, notably as part of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is also governed by the French Constitution, as part of the guarantee of the rights of foreigners to lead a normal family life.
In 2020, the government froze the issuance of family reunification visas due to the global health crisis. In January 2021, the Council of State suspended this decision. The judge found "that the measure seriously undermines the right to normal family life of all concerned and the best interests of the children involved" and concluded that there was "serious doubt" about its legality. This is further evidence that its repeal is difficult, if not impossible, to implement.
Better control of borders, suspend the Schengen Area
What is the Schengen Area? The Schengen Area is a zone of free movement of people. Any individual who enters the territory of one of the member countries can freely cross a border, without control, within this area.
In 2021, Schengen will include 26 states: 22 of the 27 EU members - Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Croatia do not participate, while Ireland has a special status - as well as four associated nations: Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
What they say: "I think Schengen is madness," said Zemmour on CNews on February 5 2021.
What they propose: Zemmour wants to erect walls on all the external borders of the EU. He also wants to suspend the Schengen Area, while Le Pen no longer recognizes it - this measure has long been part of her proposals to limit immigration. Dupont-Aignan wants France to withdraw from the Schengen Area.
Is this feasible? France can leave the Schengen Area, but not without consequences, especially financial. The cost to France of re-establishing the borders would be €1.15 billion, according to a low estimate calculated from reports by France Stratégie and Rand Europe in 2017.
Currently, France can suspend the Schengen agreements for six months. Since 2015 several countries have reintroduced ad hoc identity checks at borders. Thus, for the past seven years, six countries - France, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Norway and Sweden - have been reintroducing these controls every six months, a practice authorized by the Schengen code on an exceptional and temporary basis.
Zemmour's proposal to build barrier fences at the EU's borders has little chance of succeeding. Several European countries want to erect barbed wire on their borders, or have already done so. This is notably true in Poland, which began building a wall on its border with Belarus in January. To complete its project, Warsaw has applied for European funding.
But the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, is strongly opposed to such funding. "If member states want to build their own boundary fences, they can do so, but it is a long-standing position of the Commission not to finance walls or barbed wire," she said on January 12.
Deporting more migrants
What they say: "We must expel and permanently ban from French territory the people we have welcomed, who are foreigners and who commit crimes and misdemeanors in our country," said Le Pen on RTL on April 20, 2021.
What they propose: Le Pen, Zemmour and Dupont-Aignan all want to "expel foreign delinquents and criminals".
Is this feasible? France already expels many irregular immigrants. Figures for the year 2020 show that the country sent back a total of over 9,000 people. That's half as many as in 2019 when 19,000 people were sent back. According to France's Interior Ministry, the explanation for this decline can be at least partly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous border closures.
In recent years, the trend in deportations has been sharply rising. In 2016, 12,900 people were removed, compared with 14,200 in 2017, 15,600 in 2018 and 19,000 in 2019.
In addition, the expulsion of an undocumented migrant is subject to rules, it cannot be simply automatic. For example, a foreigner without a passport, and therefore without nationality, cannot be expelled. In order to send a person back to their country of origin, there must first be the agreement of the country of origin and they must request a consular pass. However, these documents are issued piecemeal by the countries concerned. Therefore, deportation can take a long time.
Last September, France spoke out against countries that refuse to take back their nationals who are in an undocumented situation on French territory. The government tightened visa requirements for Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, causing a diplomatic crisis with the Maghreb.
Limiting the right to asylum
What is it? The right to asylum is internationally recognized by the 1951 Geneva Convention. It protects any person who has been the victim of persecution in their country of origin by affording them refugee status.
What they say: "The right to asylum will only be for a handful of people, not 130,000 like today. Students, same thing. All sources of immigration, I'm drying them up," said Zemmour on January 26 on French television channel Public Sénat.
What they propose: Zemmour wants to limit the right of asylum "to a handful of individuals per year," while Dupont-Aignan and Le Pen want to overhaul it.
Is this feasible? It would be very complicated, if not impossible, to abolish the right of asylum in France, as the country is one of the signatories to a number of official texts. France would have to withdraw its membership of the European Union, as the right of asylum is enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It would also be necessary to amend the French Constitution, which recognizes that "any man persecuted because of his action in favor of freedom has the right of asylum on the territory of the Republic".
Furthermore, quotas for refugees cannot be established. This would be contrary to France's international commitments and to its own Constitution.
Hungary, under conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has been seeking to restrict the right of asylum in the country for several years. But is has been blocked by European rules. Budapest has been repeatedly criticized by the EU Court of Justice for "illegally restricting the right of asylum."
The original version in French was published on March 17, 2022.