The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was finalised in July after 18 months of talks and approved Monday at the start of a two-day conference in Marrakesh.
Billed as the first international document on managing migration, the legally non-binding pact lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and discourage illegal border crossings.
But the UN’s top official sought to counter anti-immigrant populist sentiment around the pact after the United States and 15 other countries, most of them in Europe, either opted out or expressed concerns that it would undermine national sovereignty and increase immigration from African and Arab countries.
“It is a framework for international co-operation” that “specifically reaffirms the principle of state sovereignty,” said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Macron absent from Marrakesh
French President Emmanuel Macron said in late October that he “clearly supported” the pact, and France was among the 150 countries in Marrakesh for its adoption.
But Macron himself remained home in order to deal with the crisis provoked by the yellow vest protests, sending instead his secretary of state for foreign affairs, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.
Macron’s political opponents on the right of the political spectrum have sought to capitalise on the anti-government sentiment of the protests to attack the adoption of the pact.
“One again, the French have been left out of a decision that will change the face of our country like never before,” tweeted Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally (formerly National Front).
“What the contemptuous oligarchs have done will be undone by the French people,” Le Pen added.
Le Pen participated in a meeting about the pact in Brussels at the weekend on invitation from the Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang, which also invited Steve Bannon, a former advisor to US President Donald Trump.
Belgium's liberal premier Charles Michel won the support of parliament and is in Morocco to back the accord, but was left leading a minority government on Sunday after the Flemish nationalist party said it will quit his coalition over the pact.
Linking pact with protests
Lawmakers in French right-wing party Les Républicains (LR) also sought to portray Macron’s endorsement of the pact as evidence that his administration is out of touch with ordinary people.
Sentiment of that kind is fuelling yellow vests protests that have ravaged the French economy in recent weeks.
“In the midst of a political crisis, and at a moment of high migratory pressure, Emmanuel Macron prefers to close his ears,” said LR lawmaker Julien Aubert.
“It is intolerable that France deals with this subject on the sly at a moment when French people, namely through the mobilisation of the yellow vests, are demanding to be heard and for their voices to count for something,” said party spokesperson Lydia Guirous.
Eric Ciotti, an LR MP who wrote a letter to the president’s office, signed by 55 party MPs, asking to not sign the pact, called the adoption a “democratic scandal” and called for a parliamentary debate that he argued would “eventually remove prerogatives of sovereignty”.
While some participants of the yellow vest movement express concern over immigration on social media, the main concerns cited by protesters are taxes, purchasing power, the cost of living and the general perception that the government is unaware or uninterested in the plight of ordinary people.