Macron signals tougher line on immigration

Macron signals tougher line on immigration

French President and Andorra co-Prince Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech in Andorra la Vella. (AFP Photo)

With an eye on re-election, France's Emmanuel Macron has signaled a tougher line on immigration, arguing that to prevent voters drifting to the far-right the government must end its "laxist" approach.

Setting out his priorities for the second half of his mandate on Monday evening, Macron said that his centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party risked being seen as "bourgeois" unless it tackles the issue of immigration.

"By claiming to be humanist we are sometimes too laxist," he told a meeting of his ministers and ruling party representatives, claiming that France's asylum laws were being "misused" by people-smuggling networks and "people who manipulate" the system.

The question for his three-year-old party, which has struggled to establish a presence in small-town and rural France, was "whether we want to be a bourgeois party or not," according to Macron.

"The bourgeois have no problem with that (immigration). They don't come up against it. The working classes live with it. For decades the left didn't want to deal with this problem so the working class migrated to the far-right."

"We're like the three little monkeys, we don't want to see," he said, referring to the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" dictum represented by three monkeys with their hands over their eyes, ears, and mouth.

An Ispos/Sopra Steria poll on divisions in French society published Tuesday showed 63 percent felt there were "too many foreigners in France".

Sixty-six percent also said they felt that immigrants did not try hard enough to integrate.

Since coming to office in 2017, Macron has taken a tough line on so-called economic migrants who leave home in search of work and better opportunities abroad, as compared with bona fide refugees fleeing war or persecution.

France last year received a record 122,743 asylum requests, up 22 percent compared to 2017.

French media and opposition parties saw his latest remarks as linked to local elections next year and a signal that he is preparing for re-election in 2022.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen was scathing of the president's tough-sounding rhetoric on an issue that has been the focus of her party for the last three decades years.

"For the past two-and-a-half years he (Macron) has seen nothing and heard nothing" on the misuse of asylum laws, she accused.

"Emmanuel Macron is clearly launching into the presidential election," she said.

A Communist member of the French Senate, Eliane Assassi, accused Macron of whipping up fear among voters about immigrants and warned him, referring to the far-right that voters "prefer the original to the imitation."