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What is Le Pen’s ‘French nationals first’ policy and is it legal?

The far-right candidate wants to give French citizens priority over foreigners for housing and jobs. She also wants to limit or end social benefits for non-French nationals

Marine Le Pen wants to limit or end certain social aids for non-French nationals in France, including family allowances Pic: Frederic Legrand - COMEO, sylv1rob1, Jerome.Romme / Shutterstock

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has attempted to centre her campaign on spending power in a bid to appear more moderate - but she still has several 'French-first' policies in her programme.

One is a concept called “la priorité nationale” (French nationals first), an idea taken from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s discourse – he often spoke of ‘la préférence nationale’. 

The main principle of the priorité nationale is to give people with French citizenship priority in applications for social housing and/or jobs.

Ms Le Pen also backs either limiting social benefits to only French nationals or making them conditional on having worked in France for a full five years. 

This could include unemployment benefits, housing benefits and minimum pension allowance.

It could also include government grants on housing or renovation, although this is not specified in Ms Le Pen’s programme. 

Family allowances would strictly be limited to French citizens, though.  

“The presence of foreigners in the country should no longer constitute an unreasonable burden on public finances and the social welfare system,” her programme states. 

But the concept of priorité nationale has been deemed anti-constitutional by lawyers and specialists and in opposition to other laws, both in France and internationally. 

Read more: Expressions you may hear in the lead up to final French election vote

We look at how Ms Le Pen plans to implement her immigration policy, and why it is currently not legal.

An extract from Marine Le Pen’s programme on ‘controlling immigration’. Credit: Mlafrance

Issues with creating a priorité nationale law

The French constitution does not mention that social benefits to help people who are out of work should be restricted to only French nationals. 

It also states that the French State must ensure “equality under the law of all citizens without distinction of origin, race or religion”. 

Equally, France’s Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (1789) also rules out discriminated against a person based on their origin. 

Introducing a priorité nationale law would be “discrimination on the basis of origin, which is totally contrary to the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Council," Jean-Paul Markus, professor of public law at the University of Paris-Saclay, told Le Monde

Another issue that Ms Le Pen will face is international law, particularly EU legislation that has a special superiority called “primacy” - meaning in any conflict of laws EU law trumps national law. Her priorité nationale will not conform to EU laws on individuals’ rights. 

It means that Ms Le Pen will face legal obstacles if she attempts to push through her immigration policies, as she promises to. 

In fact, implementing the priorité nationale law forms part of her number one goal on her list of 22 measures for 2022, a guide to her policies.

Credit: Mlafrance

If implementing the law is not constitutional, how would Le Pen do it?

She intends to hold a referendum on the status of foreigners and nationality. 

More specifically, she wants to address “the access of foreigners to any public or private employment, the exercise of certain professions…or [participation] in trade unions…as well as their access to social aid.”

The reason she wants to hold the referendum is that France’s constitutional council (the Conseil constitionnel) cannot examine any law adopted by referendum.

“What Marine Le Pen is proposing is a kind of coup d'état," Dominique Rousseau, professor of public law at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, told Le Monde.

Ms Le Pen also wants to hold a referendum on the primacy of EU and international law in order to make the French constitution - once she has changed it via referendum to her preference - the overarching authority. 

This will allow her the power to introduce discriminatory policies that benefit French nationals to the detriment of foreigners living in the country, even those who pay taxes, raise families and serve the state. 

What else is in Ms Le Pen’s presidential programme? Read more here: Macron - Le Pen: What do they each pledge to change if elected?

A type of priorité nationale already exists in France (and other countries)

Only people who are French or from the European Economic Area can serve as civil servants in France. 

This is not an unusual policy and is in place in many countries. The UK in 2020 introduced a law stating that only British nationals can work for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, for example. 

Certain jobs in France related to the country’s sovereignty, such as ministry jobs in departments such as defence, foreign affairs, justice, the interior ministry, etc, are reserved only for French nationals. 

Police officers or magistrates must also be French. 

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