More and more ‘Reform’

‘Reform’ of asylum and immigration laws

It comes with the territory that Interior Ministers have a tendency to hardness.

In France the tendency is for Interior Ministers to be hard men (Michèle Alliot-Marie, 2007-09, the sole woman; before, she’d been the first female Defence Minister). Gérard Collomb (ex-Socialist Mayor of Lyon for 16 years) is in the direct line of macho Interior Minister tradition. He moved effortlessly from the outward reaches of the Socialist right to the right of the President’s République en Marche Party (LRM).

Collomb’s flagship Asylum and Immigration Law is currently winding through Parliament. The Law is intended to

  • speed up the asylum process to take 6 months max, not 11 (appealing a decision to reject asylum will need to be made within 2 weeks, not a month)
  • ‘toughen the fight’ against illegal immigration – maximum detention is increased from 45 to 90 days (the Government originally wanted 135 days), with accompanied minors still able to be detained [Civil Liberties Note: since 2012, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned France 6 times – it’s one of 3 European countries which systematically detain accompanied minors]
  • formalise the right to stay of those who are in France legally.

That may all sound rather ho-hum. In the devilish detail though, it’s far from where some of France likes to see itself. Such that in The Spectator (liberal/Conservative weekly), Erixon writes that ‘[Macron] stands behind the toughest reforms of migration and assimilation policy that France has seen for a long time, and he has been surprisingly untroubled by the accusations that his policy on law and order is borderline fascist.’

Over the all-but-a-year since the Legislative Elections, the 312 LRM Deputies have been a solidly homogeneous group … well, at least they’ve voted the same way. No deviation from an ‘agreed’ Party line was permitted: the LRM Deputies had to offer (un)questioning support. Any repeat of the previous Socialist Government’s constant troubles, with its 50+ leftie frondeurs (disrupters) was unimaginable. President Macron had clarified pre-Elections: ‘Every [LRM] candidate … undertakes to vote for my major policies, in other words to support our project.’

However, endorsing the Asylum and Immigration Law has been hard for several LRM Deputies. The  leader of the LRM Deputies (himself vexed by continuing judicial enquiries into employment/property issues) had given LRM Catholic Deputies fair warning: ‘Abstention’, advised Ferrand ‘is a venial sin. Voting against legislation, however, is a mortal sin which will result in exclusion’. [Those of other religions, and none, should perhaps have sought theological advice elsewhere.]

When it came to the final vote of the Law’s passage in the National Assembly, 11pm one Sunday night, a single LRM Deputy (ex-Socialist) voted against. Deputy Clément (now ex-LRM too) was duly damned, separated from the saving grace of ‘God’, cast out from LRM heaven and definitively excluded. Now he’s trying to persuade other(s) to join him: ‘the transfer window will soon be open’ says Clément (hopefully). 14 rather less brave LRM Deputies, mere venial sinners they, plucked up the courage to register their abstention.

Yet still. The total LRM vote was way short of the LRM’s very grand total of 312 Deputies. Only 197 of them voted in favour of the Asylum and Immigration law. Why so? Because no less than 99 Macronite LRM Deputies found better things to do late that Sunday night than vote for their own Government’s asylum/immigration law.

A perhaps simpler explanation was offered by Martine Wonner (LRM Deputy, Bas-Rhin): ‘Certain people suddenly had to go for a pee’.

Le Monde‘s Goar identifies this mass Pee-In (or Out?) as ‘the first hairline fracture in the LRM monolith’.

Anything Collomb can do, Wauquiez can do ‘righter’, Wauquiez can do anything ‘righter’ than … just about anyone 

The right-wing Les Républicains (LR) were clearly not to be outdone by any of this. The LR organised a rally unambiguously entitled ‘How to reduce immigration’ [and how best to win back voters who’ve gone awol to the Front National]. Even less unambiguously right-wing LR Leader, Wauquiez, joined the Front National line by calling for a referendum on immigration: ‘Neither smugglers nor judges should decide who comes to France. The French people must decide. It’s their country.’

To avoid any possible misinterpretation of his position [usually he leaves little space for misinterpretation], Wauquiez demanded:

  • the expulsion of 300,000 illegal immigrants
  • the denial of French nationality to anyone born in France whose parents did not have approved immigration status, and
  • the preservation of French identité and nature 

For good measure, Wauquiez reminded us on France2 TV channel this week of his view that the President did not have a ‘profound love’ for France and repeated his plea that ‘France needed to be found again’, both favourite right-wing themes.

Who needs a Marine Le Pen when there’s a Wauquiez around? Although from Wauquiez’s continuing poll ratings it appears that the reverse continues to be true. The latest Odoxa poll identifies those individuals seen as being the best opposition to President Macron. In descending order we have:

  • Mélenchon 42% (hard left France Unbowed)
  • Le Pen 29% (ultra-right Front National – up 5 points since December)
  • Wauquiez 17% (conservative Les Républicains – down 7 points since December)
  • Faure 9% (non-existent Secretary of non-existent Socialist Party)

Electoral and Parliamentary ‘reform’

When de Gaulle established the 5th Republic in 1958, the electoral system chosen excluded all form of proportionality for the election of Deputies. It made sense following the 20+ Governments that had marked 12 turbulent years of the 4th Republic from 1946. The executive needed solid Governmental majorities to be able to govern.

Yet, over time, different problems emerged. In 2017, the President’s République en Marche Party got 28% of the votes in the first round of the Legislative Elections; but, with the two-round voting system, ended up with 55% of the seats. This was but an extreme example of what had benefited the Socialists in 2012 and before them the right-wing UMP in 2002 and 2007. This phenomenon is well-known in ‘first past the post’ electoral systems or, like France, where 2 leading candidates from the first round go through to a 2nd round run-off. ‘Winning’ parties can get large majorities in their Parliaments, despite much lower overall national support.

The mirror image of that problem is that new, or small, parties get little (or no) reward if they have support, but it’s fairly evenly spread. It is near impossible to break through. Except that suddenly (as the President’s LREM Party achieved last year) if a Party breaks through everywhere, the winner nearly takes it all. So the Front National in 2017 got 13% of the 1st round vote in the Legislative Elections and won 8 Deputies, while the Républicains got 16% and got 100 Deputies. The Républicains leader, Wauquiez, has already made clear their opposition to proportional representation, seeing the reform as ‘far from the concerns of the French people’ and leading to ‘a greater distance being created between electors and elected’ [the traditional argument against proportional representation as employed by ‘major’ political parties].

These anomalies have led President Macron to follow through on his programme promise to introduce a proportional element into national elections. It is proposed that 15% of the Deputies be elected proportionately. This pleases almost no-one, and the President is accused of reticence in forcing real change. Many suggest that perhaps 25% of the Assemblée Nationale would need to be elected proportionately for there to be a real democratic impact. Certainly, 15% is far short of the German Parliament’s 50% elected by proportional vote.

A second constitutional change is the 30% proposed reduction in the number of Deputies and Senators, to which the Senate is still opposed. The Senate Leader, Républicain Gérard Larcher, is a wily, elderly statesman. His stated objective has been that, post-reform, every geographical Département should retain at least one Deputy and one Senator [the Senate, historically, sees its role as guarding the interests of la France profonde [the deepest heartlands]. Larcher says that a 30% reduction in Senators, combined with 15% being elected proportionally, may mean that his objective (as much party political as constitutional) will not be met.

Lastly, there’s the idea that any Deputy, Senator or head of a local executive body cannot serve more than three terms. This was another plank of Candidate Macron’s (‘I do what I say’) Presidential programme. There’s already been one major change to the original plan. When the idea first emerged, in November 2017, Candidate Macron said his ‘Three Terms And You’re Out’ rule would apply to every Mayor elected in a commune of at least 3,500 people [France has over 35,000 communes, each with Mayor, Council, budget etc: it’s localism taken to its illogical conclusion].

However Prime Minister Philippe responded to angry mutterings (mostly from the Senate again, protecting the constitution and conservative politicians alike) when he announced that only Mayors of communes with more than 9000 inhabitants would be affected. Thus, AtAStroke, more than 95% of France’s Mayors breathed more easily as they gained the right to continue ruling local fiefdoms sine die.

But what of now-threatened Deputies and Senators? An essential, yet unresolved, question is to determine when the three critical terms of office are to commence. ‘Retrospective legislation’ tends to be frowned upon other than for fairly serious matters. Is a three-term Deputy to be barred from standing again? Or will the new law only take effect from the next Legislative Elections? If the latter, Deputies will start to be barred from office once they’ve completed three terms of office in … 2037. That’s even further away than competition on the Greater Paris express railways. ‘An issue to be decided by Parliament’ commented a Government spokesperson.

‘Reform’ of the Railways

The United Kingdom is currently questioning the benefits of railway privatisation. For the third time since 2006, the London-Edinburgh train line is being removed from a failed franchisee. The line will be put under Government control, before a public-private partnership takes over in 2020. Four other UK rail franchises are also in sufficient financial jeopardy that re-nationalisation looms. Labour’s Finance spokesperson, McDonnell, congratulated Conservative Transport Minister, Grayling, on ‘implementing [the] first stage of Labour’s Manifesto promise to re-nationalise the railways’, saying Grayling had ‘nationalised more railways than any Labour minister in 6 decades’.

It’s piquant that the UK is having second thoughts on their 20 year love affair with railway privatisation. This occurs just as French P.M. Edouard Philippe denies the import of an internal SNCF email leaked to Le Parisien about a meeting involving the French Transport Minister’s officials and SNCF on railway privatisation. Asked by Le Monde whether SNCF privatisation was envisaged, Philippe replied ‘My reply is no. The law [on reforming SNCF] will be unambiguous.’

Le Monde also reported – just as railway workers started their 10th set of 2-day strikes – a willingness on Government’s part to accept some tinkering with the SNCF reform law (15% of the amendments proposed by the less militant unions may be accepted). The Government insists, though, that 3 railway reform principles must be retained:

  • the SNCF must accept competition over the decades to come
  • SNCF’s legal status must be changed
  • new SNCF recruits must have a new ‘standard’ recruitment status

That Governmental flexibility could be the beginning of an attempt to heal seriously damaged industrial relations within SNCF. The strike is itself beginning to be much less supported. Last Friday 16% were on strike (according to SNCF) contrasting sharply with a leap in support earlier in the week (28%) in the immediate aftermath of the alert that ‘The Government was intent on privatising SNCF’.

‘Reform’ of the way demonstrations are organised

Next week will  see a radical transformation of the way in which opposition to the Macron Presidency is articulated.

For the first time in oh-so-long the still-somewhat-mighty CGT trade union (lead union in the public sector, but no longer the private) is calling on its members to join a major mobilisation. They are asked to support the 26 May ‘Marée populaire pour l’égalité, la justice sociale et la solidarité‘ [marée = tide].

This ‘popular wave’ has been organised by several anti-capitalist/anti-globalisation groups, plus most political parties to the left of the Socialists (eg Communists, assorted Trots/Greens, Mélenchon’s France Unbowed).

For a major trade union, like the CGT, to join such an overtly ‘political’ demonstration intended to ‘drive Macron back’ is what makes this special. Some newspapers even describe it as an ovni [objet volant non-identifié – unidentified flying object].

It is also claimed that the 26 May demonstration will be people-led, with those not affiliated to political parties or trade unions in the vanguard (provided those anarchists haven’t got there first). Mélenchon promises “a Macron super-fête‘. He told the nation on France2 this week that ‘The Republican monarch has no sceptre, but only scissors. He cuts the State’s budget, the public sector workers and the income of the poor; he cuts into the social history of France, he wants to destroy rights acquired over many years’.

Proof how out-of-the-ordinary this event will be is that the 26 May fête will see the CGT trade union A-Marching on A Saturday. The traditional trade unionist rallies on a (Mon-Fri) working day. Hard-leftie Mélenchon, however, has always believed in the idea of the family taking over The Street, presumably before taking over the country. He has just returned from a comradely trip to Moscow : apart from fulminating against Le Monde several times in his blog, Mélenchon spends an inordinate amount of blog space defending/rationalising his Moscow visit (protesting, perhaps, too much). He’s probably proud of having been there, though, weeks ahead of Macron who’s there this week. Mélenchon’s meanderings are all here (in French) – at infinitely greater length than even this blog post.

And, finally, the Trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière Party (LO – Workers Struggle) have announced they’re joining tooNormally LO wouldn’t be seen dead near other political parties, let alone one as mainstream as Mélenchon’s hard left France Unbowed [yes the left of the left’s internecine politics is tricky to parse].

LO leader, Nathalie Arthaud [their 2012 Presidential candidate who won 0.56% of votes cast, progressed to become LO’s 2017 Presidential candidate, winning a weightier 0.65%] says of her political enemy, the leader of France Unbowed, that all Mélenchon wants to do is ‘take Emmanuel Macron’s place’. She reproaches Mélenchon for ‘never having said it is necessary to expropriate [major corporations]’ and claims that all Mélenchon ‘wants to do with capitalism is to humanise it, make it more ethical and soften it up’. Despite all that contempt, LO’s massed ranks (200,000 voted Arthaud in each of those last 2 Presidential Elections) will join in at the back of the Marée populaire while awaiting that possibly-permanently-delayed Revolution.

Ultra-right ‘reform’

What’s in a name? A lot when it’s poisonous. Ultra-right superstar Marion Maréchal-Le Pen [who constantly vaunts her national-socialism without any nasty pretend ‘social-ist’ stuff that others, such as aunt Marine Le Pen (current NF leader) sometimes adopt] is progressing her plans to develop ‘schools’ for Ultra-Right Thought (counter-intuitive eh?). Today’s Journal de Dimanche tells us she’s dropped ‘Le Pen’ from her Twitter/Facebook accounts. So she’s now plain Marion Maréchal. Better, maybe, for her Ultra-Right Education plans … and for That Return To Politics which can surely not be long delayed.

19th century British Constitutional ‘Reform’

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2 thoughts on “More and more ‘Reform’

  1. Richard, congratulations on another very interesting and informative blog. It may be useful to augment your passing comment re ‘2037… That’s even further away than competition on the Greater Paris express railways’, and examine how France manages to completely ignore any EU directives on opening markets to competition, whether in Transport and any Utilities. All this while professing to fully support EU principles.

    As far as renationalisation of railways in the UK is concerned, and to those who favour this as ‘things cannot get any worse’. I am old enough to remember the ‘heyday’ of British rail and I would say to those people ‘believe me, they can…’

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  2. Chris. It’s events like today’s utter shambles on several UK rail lines that persuade people that things cannot just go on. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-44188947 gives a good flavour of the chaos brought about by incompetent operators.
    I think it’s brilliant the way that France has successfully found ways of avoiding (definitely not evading) their responsibilities under the competition rules. But now thing will slowly start to change.

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