PARIS ― French President Emmanuel Macron scored a Pyrrhic victory late Tuesday night after passing a flagship immigration bill in a vote that leaves his parliamentary coalition deeply scarred.
The bill imposes a series of measures that have been heavily criticized by the left as pandering to Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, while the far-right party claims the Macron government has been inspired by its long-time calls for foreigners to be excluded from state welfare benefits.
A key part of the bill would now see social security benefits for foreigners conditional on being in France for at least five years, or 30 months for those who have jobs, echoing some of the National Rally’s longtime campaign lines.
In a surprise move, the National Rally on Tuesday announced it would vote in favor of the latest version of the government’s bill, embarrassing the top brass of Macron’s party, who had to choose between passing a bill with far-right support or throwing in the towel.
The government managed to pass the law thanks to a last-minute pledge not to enact the legislation if it didn’t get enough support without the far right.
A total of 349 MPs, including lawmakers from Macron’s centrist coalition, the conservatives and 88 National Rally MPs, ultimately voted Tuesday in favor of the draft legislation, while 186 were against. While that may seem a comfortable majority, almost a quarter of the MPs from Macron’s coalition abstained or voted against the bill.
“There have been moments of great difficulty, but today we can be satisfied that a majority of MPs clearly voted for very strong measures,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said after the vote.
But the government now faces a shattered coalition in parliament. The debates and compromises have left Macron’s allies badly bruised, with 27 MPs belonging to his centrist coalition voting against the latest version of the legislation.
Macron is now expected to speak on Wednesday to address the crisis.
Speculation is swelling that he might soon undertake a reshuffle including a change of prime minister to re-energize his government.
A point of contention on Tuesday was whether the government needed the National Rally votes to get its bill through parliament. During an emergency meeting at the Elysée Palace before the vote, Macron warned his party that if it failed to get a majority without the far right, he would refuse to enact the legislation. The move was meant to show that there was no tacit understanding or negotiation between Macron’s party and the party of his arch-rival Le Pen.
But while the government did not need RN MPs to pass the legislation, it would have failed if they had voted against the bill.
“It’s a sickening victory,” said far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon in a scathing social media post. “Without the 88 votes of the National Rally,” the government would have “less than the absolute majority … A new political axis is appearing,” he said.
The immigration bill was a major test for Macron’s government as it seeks to repress a resurgent far right and respond to hardened public opinion on questions of migration and border control. It came after questions were raised about Macron’s ability to govern France after a defeat in parliamentary elections last year cost him his majority in the National Assembly.