France’s highest administrative court has struck down central pillars of a controversial immigration law championed by President Emmanuel Macron, delivering him a major blow.
The Constitutional Council ruled that abolishing the right to residency permits for asylum seekers who find a job was unconstitutional. It also rejected plans to increase the time authorities have to vet migrant backgrounds and make it harder for failed asylum seekers to remain in France while they appeal.
Widespread Protests Preceded Court Ruling
The immigration bill sparked months of protests by human rights groups, left-wing parties, unions, and migrants. Critics argued the legislation violated France’s principles of fraternity and equal rights.
Over 75,000 people took part in demonstrations across France last Saturday against what they termed a “racist” and “repressive” law. The protests took place just days before the Constitutional Council delivered its ruling.
Timeline of Key Events
|Immigration bill introduced
|Lower house approves bill
|Senate approves amended version
|Final National Assembly vote
|Widespread protests erupt
|January 25, 2024
|Constitutional Council overturns parts of law
What the Law Proposed
The wide-ranging legislation included several controversial measures, such as:
- Shortening the time frame for asylum seekers to file their application from 120 days to 90 days
- Restricting the right to remain in France while appealing a rejected asylum claim
- Making it harder for failed asylum seekers to receive residency permits
- Abolishing the right of asylum seekers to permits if they find a job
The government argued these steps would prevent abuse of the asylum system and streamline immigration procedures.
Constitutional Council Ruling
In its ruling, the Constitutional Council found that several parts of the legislation violated France’s “constitutional bloc.” This refers to the country’s Constitution and core human rights principles.
Specifically, the Council ruled that:
- Abolishing residency permits for employed asylum seekers violated equal rights protections
- Restricting appeal rights for rejected asylum applicants was disproportionate
- Limiting the validity period of residency permits failed to uphold fraternity principles
However, the Council upheld other parts of the legislation, including shortening the asylum application timeline.
Macron Vows New Immigration Bill
An Elysee official said President Macron took note of the Council decision but still aims to implement a “balanced yet firm” immigration policy.
Macron stated he would put forward a revised immigration and asylum reform bill in the coming weeks. He stressed that streamlining immigration procedures remains a priority of his second term in office.
With parliamentary elections coming next year, the issue promises to feature prominently in political debates. It may also influence whether Macron’s party retains its majority.
What Happens Next?
The Constitutional Council ruling has delivered a setback to Macron’s immigration plans. However, the reform agenda isn’t dead.
Going forward, lawmakers are likely to redraft parts of the legislation to align it with constitutional principles. They will also debate putting forward additional immigration bills.
At the same time, the protests are likely to continue given the polarizing nature of this issue. Much also depends on the details of any revised legislation Macron introduces.
The path forward promises to be rocky as France continues struggling to balance human rights commitments and immigration control priorities. This long-running debate is set to stretch well into Macron’s second five-year term.
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