It will be difficult, I anticipate, to strike the right tone with this post. I do not want to suggest that the continued influx of immigrants from very poor countries is not a problem for France. This morning’s report of the appalling conditions in one of the many roadside camps on the outskirts of Paris makes clear, moreover, that there is a problem not only for France but also for the migrants, who, at great peril to themselves, have succeeded only in exchanging one kind of hell for another. But the response of the president (and the government) has been an exercise in the venting of futile passions.
The decision to cut state medical aid (AME) to migrants is–not to mince words–a shocking concession to a longstanding xenophobic demand. It makes no sense, given the medical needs of the suffering migrant population detailed in the Le Monde report. Macron has made what he is up to perfectly clear: ““If we are going to welcome people with dignity, we must not be such an attractive country.” I would have thought that the unattractiveness of the tent cities around Paris was clear enough without depriving those made sick by living in them of medical care. Apparently not: the screw must be tightened one step further. Even Sarkozy did not go that far.
Sarkozy did, however, call for une immigration choisie, and Macron has now revived that failed idea by launching yet another call for immigration quotas. Thomas Legrand, reviewing the seven editorials he has broadcast since 2008 pointing out the flaws with this approach, observes dryly that it is no more likely to work this time.
To make matters worse, Macron chose to showcase his “new” approach to immigration by granting an interview to the far-right magazine Valeurs actuelles. With this choice, no doubt aimed at reaching supporters of the Rassemblement National, which he evidently regards as the only opposition left standing, he provoked what remains of the left wing of his own coalition (consisting of 11–count them: eleven–LRM deputies). Their remonstrance (to borrow a word from the vocabulary of the Ancien Régime, which somehow fits the relation between the once-again Jupiterian President and his cowed courtiers) was nevertheless milder than one might have hoped: « Nous ne pouvons laisser croire que réduire cette aide aux dépens de la santé des plus vulnérables soulagerait notre système de solidarité nationale ».
In the same interview with Valeurs actuelles, Macron also succeeded in provoking a diplomatic incident with Bulgaria by suggesting that since you can’t get a French person to “cross the street” for a job as a dishwasher any more, it was better to employ people from Guinea or Ivory Coast to do such work than to allow the jobs to be taken by Bulgarians being paid under the table (reopening the old EU can of worms involving posted workers).
The softer Macron who only recently seemed to have emerged from the Gilet Jaune crisis and the magical listening tour has quickly given way to this new thoroughly Sarkozyzed Macron. Sarkozy has reportedly become one of his close confidants, a night visitor of sorts, and the Sarkozy to whom the president is listening is himself the Buisson-influenced Sarkozy who deemed the left permanently vanquished and the far right the only remaining political battleground.
What is more, the old Jupiterian manner has returned, not only in France but also abroad. A recent FT article reported that the “imperious” French president had become increasingly irritating to his European partners. This does not bode well for Macron’s European agenda. Worse, it may not bode well for his domestic agenda either. If Macron’s calculation is that, having survived the Gilets Jaunes, he can now expect waters as smooth as those he encountered in his first months in office, I fear he is seriously mistaken. His pension reform agenda is already provoking serious opposition, and the recent disruption of rail service should have served as a warning that the prevailing surface calm may be highly deceptive.
One thinks back to the Macron of the campaign, who denounced colonialism as a crime against humanity. Can this be the same man who today is taking his cues from Sarkozy, Buisson, and Valeurs actuelles?