French conservatives slam political judgment after top constitutional court waters down immigration bill

By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

Hardline measures to restrict rights and access to benefits for immigrants are incompatible with the French constitution and must be scrapped, the country’s top constitutional court ruled on Thursday.

The Constitutional Council was reviewing the new immigration bill passed by French lawmakers last month. The legislation was eventually passed with the help of right-wing MPs after significant amendments were tabled by the National Rally to toughen up the law.

The court essentially watered down the bill, returning it to the unedited state proposed by Emmanuel Macron’s governing party, which hardline conservatives considered to be too lightweight.

In doing so, it annulled some of the more radical amendments — 32 articles in total out of 86 — including restrictions on family reunification and student residency permits, stricter criteria for migrants seeking to access welfare benefits, and a clause formally making it a criminal offense to reside in France without the appropriate documentation.

“The Constitutional Council has green-lit the government’s original bill,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, remarked on Thursday. “Never has a law provided so many means for expelling delinquents and so many obligations to integrate newcomers,” he added.

Conservatives, however, who initially helped the bill to pass were incensed.

Marine Le Pen, a former presidential candidate and parliamentary leader of the National Rally, accused the top constitutional court of “censoring” large swathes of the bill and that what remains of the legislation “does not make it possible to protect the French from uncontrolled immigration.”

“The French will therefore continue to suffer the migratory madness which is doing so much harm to France, to which the few measures remaining in the text will change nothing,” she wrote in a press release.

“More serious, this decision at a time when many European countries are tightening their legislation, will make France an even more attractive country for migrants,” she added.

Her party leader, Jordan Bardella, declared the immigration bill “stillborn” due to a “coup by the judges.” He declared that a “referendum on immigration” and giving the French people a chance to voice their concerns on the issue is the “only solution.”

The court is highly politicized, comprising primarily previous high-ranking politicians of France’s mainstream parties. Its president, Laurent Fabius, is a former French prime minister and member of the Socialist Party. Other members include Jacqueline Gourault of the liberal Democratic Movement, Jacques Mézard of the Radical Party of the Left, and Alain Juppé, another former French prime minister of the liberal-conservative Republicans who was sentenced to an 18-month suspended prison sentence in 2004 after being found guilty of misuse of public funds.

This politicization of the court was even highlighted by The Republicans President Éric Ciotti, who accused the council of judging “in politics rather than in law.”

He added that “constitutional reform appears more essential than ever to safeguard the destiny of France.”

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