Does France need Change?

Dear followers

To the question asked by Judy Dempsey from Carnegie Europe, my answer regarding Europe and Laïcité is:

Whatever the result on May 7, one thing is certain: the French presidential election will be a game changer for Europe. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and extreme-right contender Marine Le Pen have in common (aside from their pro-Russian stance) that they want to reform current French policies outside the EU treaties. Center-right hopeful François Fillon wants a renewed Europe of nations. Those approaches augur a dangerous protectionist and nationalist change.

Given Britain’s vote to leave the EU and the current political crisis in Europe, this is not the type of change France needs. Instead, the country should reform inside and together with the EU, by committing strongly to the Franco-German relationship and investing in new initiatives that will secure a renewed political consensus in the union.

Societal change is also deeply needed regarding laïcité, one of the key pillars of the French republic. French secularism will remain sustainable as long as it sticks to its tolerance principle and avoids entrenchment. It should not become a nationalist principle that polarizes society and excludes others, but instead should adapt dynamically and enter the era of postsecularism heralded by German sociologist Jürgen Habermas. That is a change being called for by the Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon and, with some nuances, by the front-runner, centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Please read the full publications and other experts’ contributions on Strategic Europe


Immigration, a consensual issue in the French presidential campaign?

Since the end of the 1970s, when labour migration was halted, immigration has been the hot potato of French politics. Ever since its electoral breakthrough in 1982, the Front National has capitalized on the anxieties of the French society towards globalization, the economic and financial crisis as well as the disappointment with the current European project, seen by many as a big liberal market where social safety nets are being dismantled. The French political elite as a whole has been complicit of Front National’s strategy. Identity, citizenship, French suburbs and laïcité are seen by right-wing politicians as republican symbols under threat by immigrants, and this view is increasingly shared by left-wing politicians like ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Immigration is therefore mostly considered as a security issue by French politicians. In the current campaign, the right-wing is copying Marine Le Pen’s programme on immigration, in the hope to attract its electorate. The far-left presents the most humanistic ideas, although outside of EU treaties, while Emmanuel Macron stresses that asylum is a right and migrants are a strength for the economy.

Source Ouest France, 2017

With 74,468 asylum applicants in 2015, France is far from the 722,000 applications received by Germany in 2016. The dismantlement of the Calais camp in October 2016 and the increasing presence of homeless refugees in the streets of Paris have nonetheless led to a renewed debate regarding the oft-cited phrase of belated Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard that “France cannot welcome all the misery of the world.” The 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks have stressed the fracture between French society and the children of foreign-born immigrants, often in rupture with their families.

Although employment remains the first preoccupation of French people, the 2017 presidential elections polls show restrictive trends towards immigration. Accordingly, 61% of the French people are in favour of suspending immigration from Muslim countries, that is above the average of 55% of Europeans. In 2016, 57% of the French thought there were too many immigrants in France and 63% were of the opinion that the majority of refugees will not be able to integrate. While Front National and the right-wing parties follow these public opinion trends, Emmanuel Macron, the leader of En Marche!, offers a more liberal approach, in line with European commitments. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate, offers the most human policy, but outside of the European Treaties. Overall, in the French presidential campaign immigration is no longer debated as a societal project but rather as a security and identity issue.

The legacy of the Hollande Presidency

Traditionally known for its humanist approach to immigration, the left-wing government of President Hollande has in fact continued the security approach initiated by his predecessor Sarkozy. Hollande’s mandate started with the Leonarda affair, regarding an irregular immigrant Roma schoolgirl arrested during her school trip and returned back to Kosovo where her family had been expulsed to earlier. Later, he dropped his promise to grant foreigners the right to vote in local elections. In spite of a multi-annual residence permit, the 2014 immigration law facilitates the expulsion of irregular migrants and has been denounced by several NGOs. The 2015 asylum law reduces the delays in the treatment of asylum applications, thus aligning it with EU law. According to the OFPRA, the agency that processes asylum-seeker applications, this delay amounted to 205 days in 2014. Furthermore, asylum seekers whose request for asylum has been refused but cannot be returned to their home countries have not being given any status (see here).

Restrictive (extreme)right-wing programmes

François Fillon, ex-Prime Minister of France under President Sarkozy, and now running for president while under formal investigation for misuse of public funds and fake employment of his wife as a parliamentary assistant, offers a restrictive immigration programme, close to the propositions of Front National. With Fillon as president, the French Constitution would be modified to adopt a quota principle, to be defined by law, on how many residency permits could be delivered. Family reunification would be made harder and, borrowing from the extreme-right lexicon, France’s ‘migratory sovereignty’ would be restored through the renegotiation of European directives. Laws granting French citizenship to French ascendants of more than 65 years old would be repealed.

In Fillon’s vision, immigration should no longer be a burden to French society and he plans to provide family and accommodation allowances only to those residing in France for 2 years or more. State medical help for foreigners will be reviewed, and foreigners will be exempted from paying healthcare costs only in the cases of minors, emergencies and infectious disease, and only in some selected hospitals and clinics. Like Macron, Fillon wants to limit the delays in processing asylum requests to 4 months. Administrative detention of irregular migration will be extended from 45 days to 6 months, the maximum authorized by the EU return directive. The Schengen Treaty will be renegotiated to authorize increased controls at internal borders. Citizenship rules will be tightened up with additional conditions such as a minimum 8 years of residency in France and a minimum 5 years of marriage.

Stopping ‘uncontrolled’ immigration is the selling slogan of the extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Like Fillon Le Pen is under investigation; in Le Pen’s case regarding misuse of European Parliament funds to pay her parliamentary assistants. In her programme, the Front National leader will give ‘national preference’ to French people over what she sees as two evils: globalization and Islam. First, legal migration will be reduced from 200,000 to 10,000 entries per year. In the short term, because she wants to renegotiate the EU treaties, this should not apply to European citizens. Family reunification will also stop. Third, she will suppress the jus soli, the right of place of birth. This right grants French citizenship to anyone born on French territory with at least one French parent. Children born from foreign parents on French territory can also choose for French citizenship when they are 18 years old. State medical help would be suppressed. Fourth, internal borders will be re-established, as France will withdraw from ‘Schengen’. The regularization or naturalization of irregular migrants will no longer be possible.

Pro-immigration programmes

Benoît Hamon, the Socialist candidate supported by Europe Environment Les Verts, the Green party, takes a more liberal stance on immigration. He wants foreigners to have a right to vote in local elections and will accelerate the integration of asylum seekers. They will have the right to work after three months on French territory and will gain more opportunities to learn French. At the EU level, Hamon wants to stop the Dublin system that he considers unfair to Italy and Greece, two countries under important budgetary restrictions. Instead, he proposes a fairer sharing of asylum seekers among EU member states based on their hosting capacities.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader, proposes to regularize irregular migrants and to de-criminalize irregular migration. At EU level, Mélenchon wants to replace the European Border and Coast Guard Agency by an agency that will mainly rescue migrants at sea, revise databases on foreigners and biometrics used on the external EU borders. He wants to pursue Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and co-development with Southern and African neighbours. The OFPRA would be attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and no longer to the Interior Ministry, while asylum seekers would be able to work when awaiting their case to be examined. Access to French citizenship would be facilitated.

Emmanuel Macron, the election frontrunner with 26% of voting intentions according to a BVA poll of 25 March 2017, has praised German Chancellor Merkel for her open-door policy. Defending a liberal immigration policy, he considers the welcoming of refugees as a moral duty for France and Europe and has therefore criticized the EU-Turkey deal. His programme develops the following main propositions. First, foreigners’ integration will be improved through offering better facilities for learning the French language and the development of local integration programmes. Second, as Macron considers immigrants as formidable assets for the French and European economies, he wants to speed up the asylum-request process and reduce it to less than 6 months, appeal included.[1] He will introduce ‘talent visas’ to attract the best professionals to France and wants to simplify access to the labour market for all students who have obtained a master’s degree in France. However, Macron does propose an immediate return to the country of origin for those who will not be granted asylum status. At the European level, he proposes to strengthen the European Border Guards Corps, to improve border control in countries of origin and to combat human smuggling, in line with existing commitments.

Looking forward
This campaign has defied any standards about French presidential elections. Notwithstanding the investigations of Marine Le Pen and François Fillon, and the fact that this election takes place under a state of emergency, the two frontrunners include a candidate who claims to be neither left-wing nor right-wing and who until a year ago did not have a party, and an extreme-right candidate whose accession to power no longer shocks anyone. Even if Front National were not to win this election, its presence in the second round would be a strong signal that Marine Le Pen’s propositions are seducing at least one third of the French citizens, and that the threat of the extreme-right is still hanging over France. Given that France is a multicultural society, built on migration, it is disappointing that migration is not regarded as a societal project. Measures to integrate migrants are minimal and it is only very rarely that candidates recall that asylum is a human right. This national disillusionment is also reflected at the European level, where migration is rarely presented as a positive force for European economies in light of the inevitable ageing of populations. This is no good news for immigrants, nor for French and European citizens.

Sarah Wolff @drsarahwolff) is Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London and Senior Associate Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for International Relations and. She is an expert on EU immigration policy. Dr. Wolff can be followed on her blog

 This blog was originally posted on EU-forum Clingendael and appeared also on LSE EUROPP Blog

[1] For reference, today the deadline to examine an asylum appeal can run up to a maximum of five months in France according to the European Council on Refugees and Exile (ECRE). See their 2016 report here.


Political Islam in Morocco: a Royal Affair

Political Islam in Morocco: a royal affair

This op-ed was published on 6 April 2017 on Open Democracy

Sarah Wolff, Abelhaziz Hlaoua

Sarah Wolff is a lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, and an expert on the Maghreb and European Union foreign policy

Abelhaziz Hlaoua is a sociologist, and associated member of the IREMAM and the EHESS

The recent events in Morocco prove that Islam, even political, remains the affair of the monarchy which has secured foreign support through an ambitious African and religious diplomacy.

The new Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani, nominated by the king, just before his Islamist Party executive could decide internally about its leadership, has accomplished his mission. Unlike Abdellilah Benkirane, head of government from 2011 to 2016, victorious in the legislative elections of October 2016 and dismissed by the king in march 2017, Othmani a psychiatrist and former Justice and Development Party (PJD) Foreign Minister, has successfully formed a coalition government with 5 other political parties. In doing so, he yielded to the Palace’s requests to share power with the Socialist Union of the Popular Forces (USFP) that only won 6.19% of the votes. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) that came second in the legislative elections and the Istiqlal, that came third in the elections, are however excluded.

A hegemonic monarch and discredited political parties

By taking up the political initiative, the king proves that he remains the master of the political game. It sends a strong signal to the Moroccan political parties especially since the adoption of the 2011 constitution, when the country has evolved from a constitutional monarchy to a parliamentary monarchy.

According to article 47, the head of the government is no longer appointed arbitrarily by the king but within the political party that won the elections for the House of Representatives. The constitution retains the role of arbitration for the king and contributes to weakening and discrediting political parties. Lacking the majority of seats, the PJD had an impossible mission: to form a coalition with parties close to the ‘Makhzen’ (term that designates the king and the Moroccan royal notables and people close to power) such as the National Rally of Independents (RNI), a liberal party, headed by the billionaire and former Minister of Agriculture Aziz Akhannouch.

The decision of the monarch to nominate Othmani, preempting the initiative to the national council of the PJD a few days before their internal meeting, weakens the legitimacy of the institutions and disqualifies the role of political parties already precarious in the eyes of the citizens. As a guarantor of the constitution, the king renews its legitimacy and weakens political parties perceived as unable to form a government. A strategy already well established since Mohammed VI had dismissed the USFP leader Abderrahmane Youssefi in 2002, in favor of a technocratic government.

Thus, despite a semblance of political pluralism, and the reforms initiated since 2011, traditions and religion continue to limit the autonomy of the political field. Benkirane’s deference regarding his dismissal, but also the speed with which his successor Othmani formed a coalition government, confirms the loyalty of the political parties to the monarchy. This allegiance is renewed every year in the Ba’ya ceremony, which celebrates obedience to the monarchy.

The Islamists as indispensable allies

The interference of the king with the internal management of a political party is seen as a risk for the democratic transition (see here). However, the monarchy did not want to reproduce the Egyptian scenario which saw the removal of the Islamists from power. The king excluded this scenario, given the pressure of the Arab uprisings, and the still ongoing demands of civil society as expressed by the 20 February movement.

The Islamists remain indispensable allies since 1.6 million Moroccans voted for the ‘party of the lantern’. Morocco is a two-speed society, with growing inequalities. Neoliberal policies have benefited the richest, and created precarious working conditions. The survival of the regime and the guarantee of social peace therefore depends on respecting the results of the election.

Since its accession to power, the PJD has pursued a pragmatic policy of supporting the monarchy, without calling into question its religious legitimacy, and pursuing incremental reforms. It gave birth to an urban Islamist elite and seduced the middle classes. It is also the only party that attracts the vote of supporters of Salafists and movements such as Al Adl Wa Al Ihssance (Justice and Spirituality), that advocate civil disobedience and challenges the king’s status as Commander of the Faithful.

A strategic kingdom in an unstable region

The monarchy’s interference in domestic politics, occurred a few days after Morocco’s historic accession to the African Union. Armed with an immigration reform that has regularized 21.000 sub-Saharan migrants since 2014, Morocco has been entrusted by its African partners with the migration dossier. Although violence towards migrants continues, as well as restrictions on their access to the labor market, Morocco has acquired the image of a regional leader. The country also remains a strategic player in the global fight against terrorism. It relies for this on an ambitious religious diplomacy that promotes Sufism and a model of moderate Islam through the Institute Mohammed VI for the formation of imams, morchidines and morchidates, created in 2014, and the Mohamed VI Foundation of African Ulema launched in 2016.

The regional stability offered by Morocco in the heart of an unstable Maghreb should however not distract it from the timid democratic reforms initiated. Let’s hope that Moroccan citizens and European partners will remain vigilant and lucid on this subject.

Pour nos lecteurs francophones, voici la version française:

L’Islam politique au Maroc : une affaire royale

Le nouveau vizir Saadeddine Othmani, nommé par le roi, avant même que les cadres du parti Islamiste ne décident en interne de leur leadership, a réussi sa mission. Contrairement à Abdellilah Benkirane chef de gouvernement de 2011 à 2016, victorieux aux législatives d’Octobre 2016 et remercié par le roi en mars 2017,  Othmani psychiatre de formation, ancien ministre PJD des affaires étrangères, a formé un gouvernement de coalition avec 5 autres partis politiques. Pour cela il a cédé aux demandes du Palais de partager le pouvoir avec l’Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP), qui n’a pourtant remporté que 6,19% des voix. Le Parti Authenticité et Modernité (PAM) arrivé deuxième aux législatives et l’Istiqlal arrivé troisième aux élections, en sont exclus. Cela démontre que l’Islam, même politique, reste l’affaire de la Monarchie qui par ailleurs verrouille ses soutiens à l’étranger au travers de sa diplomatie africaine et religieuse.

Un monarque hégémonique et des partis politiques discrédités

En reprenant l’initiative politique, le roi prouve qu’il reste le maître du jeu politique. Un signe fort depuis l’adoption de la Constitution de 2011, qui a fait évoluer la monarchie constitutionnelle vers une monarchie parlementaire. Selon l’article 47, le chef du gouvernement est nommé par le roi non plus de manière arbitraire mais au sein du parti politique arrivé en tête des élections des membres de la Chambre des représentants. Mais la constitution conserve le rôle d’arbitrage au roi en contribuant à affaiblir voir décrédibiliser les partis politiques y compris ceux arrivant en tête aux élections. En l’absence d’une majorité des sièges le PJD avait une mission impossible: former une coalition avec des partis proche du pouvoir, tels que le Rassemblement National des Indépendants (RNI), parti libéral, avec à sa tête le milliardaire et ancien ministre de l’agriculture Akhannouch.

La décision du monarque affaiblit la légitimité des acquis institutionnels et disqualifie le rôle des partis politiques déjà précaire aux yeux des citoyens. Se posant comme garant de la Constitution, le roi renouvelle sa légitimité face à des partis politiques perçus comme incapables de former un gouvernement. Une stratégie déjà bien rodée puisqu’en 2002 Mohammed VI avait écarté le leader de l’USFP Abderrahmane Youssefi en faveur d’un gouvernement technocrate.

Ainsi malgré un semblant de pluralisme politique, et les réformes initiées depuis 2011, les traditions et la religion continuent de limiter l’autonomie du champ politique. La déférence avec laquelle Benkirane a consenti à son limogeage, mais également la rapidité avec laquelle son successeur Othmani a formé un gouvernement de coalition avec des partis qui n’ont pas remporté beaucoup de votes lors des dernières législatives, confirme la loyauté des partis politiques au monarque.

Une allégeance renouvelée chaque année dans la cérémonie de la Ba’ya, qui célèbre l’obéissance à la monarchie.

Les Islamistes : des alliés indispensables

L’interférence du roi avec la gestion interne d’un parti politique est vue comme un risque pour la transition démocratique (voir ici et ici). Toutefois la monarchie n’a pas souhaité reproduire le scénario égyptien qui a écarté les islamistes du pouvoir. Le roi exclu ce scénario, la pression du printemps arabe oblige.

Les Islamistes restent en effet des alliés essentiels puisque 1,6 million de marocains ont voté pour le ‘parti de la lanterne’. Le Maroc est une société à double vitesse, avec des inégalités grandissantes. Les politiques néolibérales ont bénéficié aux plus riches, et créé une précarisation des conditions de travail au cœur des revendications du mouvement du 20 février. La survie du régime et la garantie de la paix sociale passe donc par le respect du vote des urnes.

Depuis son accession au pouvoir, le PJD a mené une politique pragmatique de soutien à la monarchie, sans remise en cause de sa légitimité religieuse, tout en poursuivant des réformes incrémentales. Il a donné naissance à une élite islamiste urbaine et séduit les classes moyennes. C’est aussi le seul parti qui attire le vote des partisans des salafistes et de mouvements tels qu’Al Adl (Justice et Bienfaisance), qui prônent la désobéissance civile et conteste le statut de Commandeur des Croyants du Roi.

Un pays de plus en plus stratégique au sein d’une région instable

L’ingérence monarchique intervient après l’accession historique du Maroc à l’Union Africaine. Armé d’une réforme de l’immigration qui a régularisé 21,000 migrants sub-sahariens depuis 2014, le Maroc a été chargé par ses partenaires africains du dossier migratoire. Le Maroc se pose en leader régional bien que les refoulements des migrants continuent, et qu’ils ne bénéficient pas d’accès au marché du travail. Le pays reste également un acteur stratégique dans la lutte globale contre le terrorisme. Pour cela, il s’appuie sur une diplomatie religieuse qui promeut le soufisme et un modèle d’Islam du ‘Juste Milieu’ avec par exemple la création en 2014 de l’Institut Mohammed VI pour la formation des imams, des morchidines et morchidates, et la fondation Mohamed VI des oulémas africains en 2016

Il ne faudrait toutefois pas que la stabilité régionale offerte par le Maroc au cœur d’un Maghreb instable ne le détourne des timides réformes démocratiques engagées. Espérons que les citoyens marocains et les partenaires européens sachent rester vigilants et lucides à ce sujet.

Sarah Wolff, Maître de conférence à Queen Mary University of London, spécialiste des relations entre le Maghreb et l’Union Européenne et Abelhaziz Hlaoua, Docteur en sociologie est membre associé à l’IREMAM et à l’ EHESS.

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