Immigration, EU front and center in French presidential election

21 Apr 17



Immigration and France’s future in the European Union are the hot issues in France’s presidential election, as voters prepare to go to the polls Sunday. The election will be the first of a two-step process in which the top two finishers will face off against each other in a May 7 runoff, provided no one finishes with a majority in the first round. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and Centrist Emmanuel Macron are seen as the two front-runners in a crowded field, though polls show a tightening race.

Le Pen has dominated much of the news coverage with calls for France to dramatically reduce immigration, suspend participation in the Schengen Area, and perhaps leave the EU. She says she would make it harder to hire foreign workers and would introduce a tax on new employment contracts for all foreign employees. She went even further this week by saying if elected she would suspend all legal immigration to France.

“I would decide on a moratorium on all legal immigration to stop this frenzy, this uncontrolled situation that is dragging us down,” Le Pen said, according to a BBC report. The shooting of a French police officer in Paris on Thursday, an apparent terrorist attack for which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, has further fed immigration rhetoric. Le Pen has called for immediately reinstituting border checks.

Macron defends the EU, but calls for strong external EU borders. He supports increasing high-skilled immigration for professionals. His campaign promises to streamline immigration procedures and reduce talent-visa processing times to improve France’s chances of attracting more foreign talent. Macron, 39, would become the youngest president in modern France and many analysts see him as the favorite in a head-to-head match-up against Le Pen.

There is no guarantee, however, that Le Pen and Macron will emerge as the two top finishers. Polls show a tight race, with conservative Franҫois Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon  (also a Euro-skeptic) in the mix.

The election will be watched not just for what it means for France, but also to gauge the strength of an international populist tide. After the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU and Americans elected Donald Trump as president in 2016, many observers predicted right-wing parties will gain power in countries like France and Germany. Yet, the idea that anti-immigrant populism is sweeping Europe took a setback in March, with a poor showing in Dutch elections for Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom.

BAL Analysis: BAL is closely following the French election, and particularly the potential immigration consequences. Macron favors strong relations with the EU and immigration measures aimed at bringing high-skilled workers to France. Le Pen has called for suspending immigration. Either Le Pen or Melenchon, while on opposite ends of the political spectrum, would at minimum try to reshape France’s relations with the EU and would perhaps push for France to leave the EU altogether.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.
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