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Emmanuel Macron’s government was thrown into crisis on Tuesday with the French president’s centrist coalition split and several of his ministers threatening to resign before a crucial parliamentary vote on a tough version of his proposed immigration reform.
Macron called an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin just hours before the crucial vote in the National Assembly.
The move came after ten days of drama during which the government lost control over immigration reforms, in the latest sign that Macron is no longer able to impose his legislative priorities now that his centrist coalition no longer has a parliamentary majority.
Initially, Macron’s government, under pressure from far-right leader Marine Le Pen and skeptical public opinion, described its reforms as a “balanced” reform that would solve old problems.
She proposed an immigration bill that would tighten aspects of the asylum system for immigrants, while also including a business-friendly procedure for granting work permits to unregistered people working in sectors experiencing labor shortages.
But reform crystallized opposition across the political spectrum, and in an attempt to save reform, the government tightened its plans.
On Tuesday afternoon, Le Pen reversed her position and ordered her 88 lawmakers to vote in favor of the tougher version of the immigration law despite her criticizing it a few days earlier as 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.
Her shift has increased pressure on MPs in Macron’s centrist coalition in parliament, some of whom have left-wing beliefs on immigration.
Speaking to BFMTV, Mohamed Leguila, an MP from the centrist Modem party allied with Macron, called on the president to cancel the parliamentary vote, saying: “I will vote against this law.”
Three members of the government, Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau, Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retilio, and Housing Minister Patrice Vergret, told Borne they were considering resigning.
A number of other left-leaning ministers, including Transport Minister Clement Beaune, expressed concern, Agence France-Presse reported.
The latest version of the law retains proposals 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.
“There is a political agreement that does not fully satisfy everyone, but it allows us to agree on one thing: the basic need to protect the French public,” Darmanin said.
The Senate, the upper house of Parliament, voted 214 to 114 to approve the law on Tuesday evening. The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, is scheduled to vote at a later date.
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