French Elections: the Candidates’ Position on Immigration

The next French presidential election will take place on Sunday 22 April (1st round) and Sunday 6th May (2nd round). I cannot remember any French elections without any debates on immigration and the place of African migrants within the French society. The next French president will have to decide over questions which will have an impact on the nature and the reception of African migrants in France. This post is an attempt to summarise the position of the different candidates.

According to the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), there were 5 342 288 immigrants in France in 2008. Among them, more than 2 271 231 people were born in Africa (713 334 in Algeria, 653 826 in Morocco, 234 669 in Tunisia and 669 401 in other African countries). Even if it is notoriously difficult to obtain reliable figures, around 200 000 legal migrants arrive in France every year.

If he is elected again, the incumbent French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will try to reduce legal immigration by half. This objective is of course a good way for him to secure conservative votes for his political party, the UMP. It is obvious that his positions on legal and illegal immigration have always been determined by the current political affairs. When he was low in the polls in 2010, Sarkozy had started to target Roma living in France. The European Union had even asked him to “immediately suspend all expulsions of Roma”.

One of Sarkozy’s main problems is that the far-right FN would like to cut immigration to 10 000 immigrants a year. After the Toulouse shootings of March 2012, the FN candidate, Marine Le Pen argued that national “security [was] a theme that ha[d] just signed up to the presidential campaign”. Of course. What else could we expect from someone who had compared Muslim praying in the streets with the Nazi occupation of France? In their usual nonsensical delirium, the Front National associate immigration with violence, crime, fundamentalism and terrorism.

Other political parties do not want to talk about immigration caps (whether skilled or not). Their main problem is to reconcile this position with their stance on employment. François Hollande, candidate for the PS refused to give a precise figure and wants to diminish legal immigration and fight against illegal immigration. As Hollande, François Bayrou, leader of the centrist political party, MODEM, wants to create clear criteria to give French citizenship to some of the migrants.

At the far-left of the political spectrum, the different candidates disagree with Sarkozy and Le Pen. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, representing the FG, wants to give the French citizenship to all illegal migrants present on the French territory. Eva Joly, candidate for the ecologist party, EELV, does not want to diminish legal immigration either. Knowing that Hollande and Sarkozy are the main contenders for this election, it is a shame that the position of the far-left political parties is unlikely to be heard.

Vincent Hiribarren


About perspectivesonafrica

Research and news about Africa
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2 Responses to French Elections: the Candidates’ Position on Immigration

  1. I was just wondering whether a different position from the far right and the major competing parties on migration would not tempt other European governments stricken by the economic crisis (Southern Europe notably) to resort to the cheaper migrant labour. Knowing the consequences of this on EU market policy I would not expect otherwise from France’s main political forces. This means that Hollande cannot hold some over-creamed promises on the issue of migration. Especially as the securitisation of migration has been more successful than deemed. EU societies have become good patients of the political alchemists of fear among which Sarkozy features well.

    • Hey Aboubakr,

      Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you. There is a massive discrepancy between the political discourse of the main candidates and the general questions of EU market policies. There is a real fear of migrants and, for some political parties, this fear is not limited to the perceived threat of African migrants. It can be about the Roma or about other European migrants from central and eastern Europe. The best symbol of this fear was seen during the 2005 debate about the EU Consititution Referendum. The ‘Polish plumber’ became the symbol of cheap labour invading France.

      You are right when you talk about the securisation of migration. The phrase ‘Fortress Europe’ describes exactly this phenomenon. What is striking in this 2012 election is that ‘Fortress Europe’ has permeated the mindset of many political parties and French voters. Ironically, politics decided at the European level have an impact on the French national psyche. It does not matter that Italy or Spain share the same political issues, the main candidates for the 2012 elections give a French answer to a European question.


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