Interior Minister Manuel Valls yesterday confirmed his intention to change the rules concerning asylum seekers, while opposition UMP leader Jean-François Copé announced that his party wants immigration reforms.
Discussion of these highly charged issues is complicated by the fact that population census forms in France do not include questions on ethnic background (to collect such statistics might re awaken memories of WWII in France.)
Nevertheless France has for centuries been a magnet for immigrants. The country which invented the concept of human rights was an attractive destination which was also relatively easy to access, unlike the island of Britain. It is estimated that today, although it is no longer the top destination for immigrants, one in four French people has a foreign-born grandparent. Over the centuries millions of people have been assimilated to become French citizens.
No more Léonardas
The results of a parliamentary study into possible reforms to the laws on asylum seekers should be on the desk of Interior Minister Manuel Valls by 20 November.
Valls wants to reduce the time it takes for judges to reach a verdict on demands for political asylum in France, from the current average of 16–18 months to 6-9 months.
He is also likely to propose a cut in the number of requests and appeals allowed to asylum seekers.
Supporters of such reforms on the Left are advancing compassionate reasons for such changes, noting that an accelerated system would help asylum-seekers maintain links with friends and family in their home countries.
Léonarda the 15 year old Rom who was expelled last week had spent 5 years in France on government benefits before finally being escorted onto a flight to Kosovo.
There has been a significant increase in requests for asylum in France since 2007. In 2012 (the most recent figures available) 61,000 applications were made.
Opposition UMP wants immigration reforms
The UMP is working on new laws around four ideas:
Tougher border control - like most, though not all EU countries, France signed the Schengen Accord. It is not necessary to show a passport when travelling between the 26 Schengen countries. France wants some changes in the rules.
Tougher policy on illegal immigration
Health and social security payments to be less attractive to immigrants.
Some UMP deputies want a review of the policy of allowing immigrants’ family members to stay in France.
Reduce possibilities for automatic access to French citizenship, possibly modify the “right of birthplace”.
Children of at least one French parent are French citizens, adults can apply to become citizens through marriage or to become naturalised French citizens but France is the only country in the European Union to also grant nationality based on birth in France.
A person born in France to foreign parents automatically becomes a French citizen at the age of 18 if they have lived in France for 5 years since the age of 11.
A child born in France to foreign parents can apply for French Nationality with parental accord from the age of 13 and will not be refused if he or she has lived in the country for 5 years.
The UMP wants to introduce some modifications to this “right of birthplace”.
Although many UMP deputies think this right is sometimes exploited, the party would stop short of axing it completely, a policy advocated by the National Front.
Copé has already been attacked for pandering to Front National supporters over his plans for immigration reform.
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But one of his close collaborators, Jérôme Lavrilleux said that changes were needed because under new rules introduced by the ruling Socialist government in 2012, “anyone on French soil who has a child suddenly becomes immediately immune from expulsion”
Copé himself said “There is no choice but to reduce immigration to favour integration and prevent growing separation between different ethnic communities”
In April 2006, 62% of UMP supporters told pollsters that “there were too many immigrants in France”. The figure has now risen to 87%.
Generosity and tolerance towards foreigners is in shorter supply as more people struggle in tough economic times and more and more voters are turning to the Front National.
Traditionally the two largest parties in France, the ruling Socialist party and the opposition right-wing UMP, are both reportedly in a state of panic ahead of regional elections in March where the Front National is expected to do extremely well.
Many who intend to vote FN say the politically correct Paris élite have lost touch with the problems of the real world.