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French President Emmanuel Macron saved his immigration reforms in parliament on Tuesday by making them tougher on foreigners, but risked a crisis in his government when the law was approved with the support of far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
The late-night parliamentary vote capped 10 days of drama during which the government lost control of its long-promised immigration plans and tightened the law to win the votes of conservative lawmakers.
It was the latest sign that Macron is no longer able to impose legislation now that his centrist coalition no longer has a parliamentary majority, and will heighten concerns about his ability to govern.
Several left-wing ministers threatened to resign from the government over immigration reforms, and nearly a quarter of the 251 MPs in Macron’s coalition voted against the plans or abstained.
The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, approved the law by 349 votes to 186. The Senate also approved the reform.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin praised the result as a good compromise “in the interest of the French” on an issue of national importance.
But centrist and left-wing lawmakers condemned the settlement as a capitulation to far-right xenophobic ideas.
A group of NGOs described the law as “the most reactionary on foreigners’ rights in 40 years,” while trade unions described it as a “red carpet” for Le Pen.
Macron’s government, under pressure from Le Pen’s rising far-right party and in the face of public opinion hardening against immigration, initially described its reform as a “balanced” reform that would solve long-standing problems.
She proposed a draft law that would tighten aspects of the French system in dealing with asylum seekers and make it easier to deport people who are in the country illegally. But it also included a business-friendly procedure for granting work permits to undocumented people working in sectors experiencing labor shortages.
This reform is an example of Macron’s reforms At the same time (And at the same time) his approach to policy making, a reflection of how his government has long embraced ideas and recruited politicians from both the left and the right.
But the immigration plans have sparked opposition from across the parliament, and in a bid to salvage reform, the government has toughened its proposals to try to secure the votes it needs in the National Assembly.
On Tuesday afternoon, Le Pen reversed course and ordered her 88 lawmakers to support the tougher version of the law despite saying just days earlier that it was too lenient.
Her move put the government on the defensive when it reached a compromise in a cross-party parliamentary committee after negotiations with the conservative Republicans party.
“If we come to power, we will go further and act more effectively, but this law is on the right track,” Le Pen said. “There has been an indisputable victory for our ideas.”
Her shift has increased pressure on MPs in Macron’s centrist coalition, some of whom have left-wing beliefs and are loathe to vote for Le Pen’s National Rally party.
Three members of the government, Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau, Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retilio, and Housing Minister Patrice Verguerite, told Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne they were considering resigning.
The final version of the law retains a watered-down proposal to allow undocumented workers to apply for work permits if they work in sectors such as health care or construction that are experiencing labor shortages.
But right-wing lawmakers also added new provisions not proposed by Macron’s government, such as annual migrant quotas and a requirement that foreigners remain in France for up to five years before they become eligible to benefit from anti-poverty programs such as housing subsidies.
It also made it more difficult for immigrants to bring family members to France, and ended a system that automatically granted citizenship to people born in France to immigrant parents.
Mathieu Gallard, an analyst at pollster Ipsos, said Macron’s fight over immigration would have far-reaching consequences.
He added: “This shows us that the National Rally Party is clearly in a position of strength.” It has created rebels within Macron’s own group, so it will leave scars. “His position has been weakened.”
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