Emmanuel Macron and Valérie Pécresse share the electorate of the center-right and right | Photo: Reuters
Emmanuel Macron and Valérie Pécresse share the electorate of the center-right and right | Photo: Reuters

Les Républicains' candidate Valérie Pécresse is proposing to take a hard line on immigration if she is elected in the French presidential election in April. In particular, this right-wing politician wants asylum applications to be reviewed outside France and to pass a law on immigrant quotas. Up for re-election, center-right Emmanuel Macron, candidate for La République En Marche, wants to reform the Schengen Area. InfoMigrants examines their key immigration policies.

Annual immigration quotas

What Pécresse says: "I propose immigration quotas: it means that we select those we let to enter our territory."

What she proposes: Passing a constitutional law by referendum allowing Parliament to vote on annual immigration quotas.

Is this feasible? It depends on the terms of the referendum. "What the Constitution says, in Article 11, is that the referendum can be on a reform of social or economic policy but while immediately specifying that the question of the referendum can not be contrary to the Constitution," explains Tania Racho, a doctor of European law, interviewed by the collective Désinfox migrations. "So this automatically excludes questions on family reunification and asylum," which are guaranteed by the Constitution.

What Macron says: In an interview with French newspaper La Voix du Nord in February, Emmanuel Macron said he was against this idea. "Quotas work in countries like Australia and Canada, difficult to access. But in countries like ours, they do not work [...] On the other hand, we are collectively hypocritical: channels need immigration [...] It must be organized. We need a debate in the National Assembly."

Read more: French Presidential Election 2022: Are the far-right candidates' immigration plans possible?

Making social benefits conditional on living in France for five years

What Pécresse says: "Why do people come to France? Because the social benefits are far too generous."

What she proposes: Limit non-contributory social aid (APL, RSA, disabled adult allowance...) to foreigners who justify a minimum five-year presence in France. People retain the right to contributory aid for which they pay contributions: work accident, health insurance, unemployment insurance etc.

Is this feasible? The revenu de solidarité active (RSA – a French form of in work welfare benefit) is already subject to the condition of a five-year presence in France, according to the Code de l'action sociale et des familles. There are a number of exemptions from this clause, including Algerians, beneficiaries of international protection, holders of a 10-year resident card and single parents of children under three. For other social benefits, making their distribution conditional on criteria is possible but can only be established on a case-by-case basis.

What Macron says: He has not said anything on this subject.

In France, the main non-contributory social benefits are the RSA, the allowance for disabled adults (AAH), the specific solidarity allowance (ASS), the specific allowance for the elderly (Aspa), but also the state medical aid (AME). During his five-year term, Macron has not questioned the allocation of non-contributory social benefits. In 2019, however, the government of then Prime Minister Édouard Philippe made changes to the AME. As a result, the Social Security must now approve before certain non-urgent medical procedures are performed (cataract surgery, placing a hip prosthesis ...). And in 2020, the government tightened access to health care for all asylum seekers, imposing a three-month waiting period for coverage of their medical expenses.

Read more: French Presidential Election 2022: Regularization, sea rescues, end bone testing – the left's key immigration policies

Renegotiating the Le Touquet agreement

What Pécresse says: "The Touquet agreement put too much burden on France (...) The British must take their full share in this effort to secure their border and if they do not want the renegotiation, we will give them back their border."

What she proposes: In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper in November 2021, Patrick Stefanini, Pécresse's campaign manager, proposed that "the United Kingdom must finance the security of the Channel Tunnel, the security of the ports and mainly that of Calais, but also to finance the surveillance of our coasts." According to him, this solution could be completed by the installation, in France, of "[British] immigration and asylum offices that would allow them to identify and separate migrants who have family members already in the United Kingdom, those whose asylum application has solid foundation, and the rest".

Is this feasible? Yes, agreements are being renegotiated. And above all, England is already financing security of the French coast.

But "withdrawing from the agreements would be pressing the atomic button," said political scientist François Gemenne on RFI in 2018. "If France did that, it would only move the humanitarian problem because another 'Calais' would be created in Dover or Folkstone," he stressed the researcher. Another difficulty in renegotiating the Le Touquet agreement is the tension between France and the United Kingdom related to the Brexit and in particular to fishing permits in the Channel.

What Macron says: On the face of it, the president is not in favor of re-negotiating the Le Touquet agreement. On November 29, a few days after the deadly shipwreck of November 24, Gérald Darmanin, the French Minister of the Interior, declared, at the end of a defense council devoted to immigration, that there would be "no questioning of the Le Touquet agreement".

Read more: French Presidential Election 2022: The 'great replacement' is a xenophobic conspiracy theory

Applying for asylum outside French territory

What Pécresse says: "I propose that we generalize asylum at the border. This means a mandatory asylum application in our embassies, like we did in Kabul."

What she proposes: Pécresse wants asylum applications be compulsorily filed in French embassies, in a third country or at Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport.

Is this feasible? No, applying for asylum outside the borders of the host country is contrary to international law. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the host country has the obligation to provide asylum seekers on its territory with "access to fair and effective asylum procedures, health care, employment, education and social insurance, as well as the right to freedom of movement.

The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees also prohibits countries from returning people who arrive on their territory or at their border to a country where they would be at risk of persecution. In other words, turning away a person seeking asylum is illegal. This is precisely what Pécresse's proposal would lead to, because if this proposal became law, the authorities could ask people who spontaneously present themselves at the border seeking asylum to go back to their country to make an application there.

Outsourcing the asylum application is also a violation of European law. According to the legal texts, "EU countries must allow third-country nationals and stateless persons present on their territory, including at their borders, to exercise effectively their right to lodge an application for international protection".

If the proposal is inapplicable in the eyes of the law, it is just as inapplicable in the eyes of the reality experienced daily by the candidates for asylum. Not everyone has the possibility to apply for asylum in their own country or in a neighboring country, for various reasons. "The reasons are varied and include people who have no material or financial possibility of applying, fear of being identified as wishing to come to France as refugees, insecurity, uncertainty about the country from which they wish to apply for asylum", states Amnesty International.

What Macron says: The president addressed the subject during his first campaign in 2017, mentioning the idea of opening orientation centers in countries such as Niger or Chad, before changing his mind and declaring himself against it, once elected. In 2018, during a European congress in Versailles, Macron opposed the desire of Austria to create hotspots outside European territory. "France will never accept the easy solutions that some today propose, which would consist in organizing deportations, across Europe, to go and put in I do not know which camp, at its borders or within it or elsewhere, the foreigners not admitted," he had declared.

Read more: French Presidential Election 2022: 'Migration debate has become more radicalized'

Minors who refuse bone test declared to be adults

What Pécresse says: "The law is badly constructed, it was modified under [former French president] François Hollande to allow pseudo minors to refuse to submit to the tests" to confirm or disprove their minority.

What she proposes: Pécresse says anyone who declares themselves to be a minor but refuses to submit to a bone test should instead be presumed to be over-18, and therefore open to deportation.

Is this feasible? In March 2019, the constitutional council authorized this controversial practice of bone testing, which is highly contested by NGOs and the medical world for its lack of reliability. In its decision, the council warned magistrates against misuse and over-reliance on this examination. They underlined "a constitutional requirement that the child must be protected". The council specifies that "this requirement imposes that the minors present on French territory benefit from the legal protection attached to their age". They note that "it follows that the rules relating to the determination of the age of an individual must be accompanied by the necessary guarantees so that minors are not unduly considered as adults".

What Macron says: He has not commented on this issue.

Faster asylum procedures and detaining applicants

What Pécresse says: "The procedure is fast and it allows us to give asylum to those who need it, and to reject those who are there to abuse our law."

What she proposes: The right-wing candidate wants to send back rejected asylum seekers after two months and place them in dedicated detention centers during the accelerated processing of their application.

Is this feasible? These proposals are inspired by the "Greek model", regularly praised by Pécresse. European law provides that asylum seekers can move freely on the territory of the host Member State or in a space dedicated to them. This is the case of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, where asylum seekers are kept and forced to live in ultra-secure centers. These infrastructures are strongly criticized by rights groups for being "open-air prisons". 45 NGOs and civil society groups have called on the EU and the Greek government to put an end to these centers.

According to them, these places "will hinder the identification and protection of vulnerable people, limit access to services and assistance for asylum seekers, and exacerbate the adverse effects of displacement on the mental health of individuals.

What does Macron say? His Minister of the Interior Darmanin visited Samos in October 2021, a few months before Pécresse, and had also praised the "Greek model" of secure camps, wishing that this device "be applied in other Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, Spain, Malta." For Darmanin, "if all countries worked like Greece for controlling external borders, then migration management would be less of a problem in Europe".

In addition, the Asylum and Immigration Law, passed in August 2018 in the National Assembly, shortened the average processing time for asylum applications from 11 to 6 months. From the moment they enter France, applicants now have 90 days reduced from 120 to file an application with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra).

Reforming the Schengen Area

What Macron says: "A sovereign Europe is first and foremost a Europe capable of controlling its borders.

What he proposes: "The establishment of a Schengen steering committee, the creation of a solidarity and rapid intervention mechanism in case of border crises and a strengthening of Frontex," L'Express newspaper reported Macron as saying in February.

Is this feasible? The Schengen Area is already undergoing reform. The European Commission presented modifications on December 14. The reform proposed by Brussels opens the possibility for a member state to apprehend an illegal migrant in a border area and send him back to the neighboring country from which he arrived. Until now, a person could only be deported to his or her country of origin after crossing a member state border.

The European executive also wants to respond to the instrumentalization of migrants by a third country, as was the case in Morocco, in May 2021, or more recently Belarus.

To enable Member States to cope with an exceptional migratory influx, and as it recently did for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia faced with migrant arrivals, it proposes exceptional asylum procedures, in particular by extending the deadlines for registration of applications.

What Pécresse says: In an article published in French newspaper Le Monde in December 2021, the Les Républicains candidate announced that she wanted "to overhaul the Schengen Agreement and European migration policy by revising the Returns Directive [which has harmonized the rules for expelling undocumented migrants in the EU since 2008], by systematizing biometric checks on all those wishing to enter our territory and by speeding up recruitment of 10,000 Frontex border guards."

The original version in French was published on March 18, 2022.

 

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