Immigration law rejected in France: is this the end of it?

Out of three possible options the government has chosen to call a ‘mixed commission’ of MPs and senators to look at the text

MPs narrowly voted to reject the bill before it was debated
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French MPs last night voted to immediately reject the controversial immigration law bill, leading to an evening of chaos for the government.

However, in a new twist this morning (December 12), the government announced it had chosen what will happen next – a ‘mixed commission’ of seven MPs and seven senators will get together to try to agree on a version of the text.

A motion to reject the bill prior to a full MPs’ debate was narrowly passed by 270 votes to 265 on Monday evening, with opposition MPs from both the left and right of the chamber voting in tandem against the government.

It is the first time since 1998 that a vote to reject a law prior to its debate in parliament has succeeded.

This took the government by surprise, as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had said the weekend prior that he “could not imagine,” such a situation, arguing it would be “absolutely incoherent.”

He offered his resignation to President Emmanuel Macron after the vote, however this was rejected, meaning he remains in office.

Why was the law rejected?

The law, which had passed through the Senate as well as the MPs’ laws commission (a small vetting committee), had seen a number of additions to the original text, radically changing the nature of the bill as drafted by the Interior Ministry at the start of 2023.

These are usually discussed by parliament during the debate phase, however a motion to completely reject the bill was tabled by ecologist MPs, and supported by prominent members of the right-wing Les Républicains party.

The government believed this was unlikely to pass, as it would require almost all opposition MPs, including those from the left-wing Nupes alliance, the far-right Rassemblement National, and right-wing Les Républicains to all vote in conjunction with one another.

However, these groups all voted to reject the bill, albeit for very different reasons, and in addition nine MPs from the government’s coalition did not vote alongside the government, leading to the motion passing.

The last time a vote to reject a bill prior to debating it was in 1998, when various right-wing groups mobilised to reject a bill to introduce the Pacs (civil partnerships).

Many left-wing MPs had not shown up at the beginning of the debating session, allowing the right-wing groups to force through the motion, taking many by surprise.

Read more: Nationality, residency cards, visas… What French Senate kept in bill

What happens to the bill now?

The failure to even begin debating the bill left the government with three main options, either to withdraw the bill totally and perhaps rewrite it and start again, to send it back to the Senate, or to set up a mixed MPs and senators’ commission to look at it.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran announced this morning they are going to do the latter, involving creating a commission mixte paritaire (CMP) of seven MPs and seven senators to redraft the bill, before sending it back to each chamber to vote on.

It would be possible for the government to use the controversial 49.3 article that allows the government to pass bills without a vote on them.

However, prime minister Élisabeth Borne has ruled this out, saying it is “not the right method” to pass such a law that is not focused on economic or budgetary measures.

Read more: What is France’s article 49.3 and why is it back in the news again?

Out of the options, total withdrawal was always seen as unlikely as it would amount to a severe defeat for the government.

President Emmanuel Macron was also thought to be unlikely to abandon the bill in this way considering that it was, along with pension reforms, one of his cornerstone re-election pledges in the 2022 campaign.

Sending the bill back to the Senate in the form that the Senate voted through previously was also unpopular with many politicians, as the bill would simply have been returned to parliament at a later date, and MPs would be able to vote on an immediate rejection of the bill once again.

The joint committee option will see MPs and senators having to compromise on a number of key issues – but the bill is thought to be likely to end up more closely resembling that which passed through the Senate so as to satisfy a number of rebellious Les Républicains MPs.

The Senate is largely made up of centrist and right-wing MPs, and MPs from these groups would be unlikely to oppose a draft of the bill agreed to by the senators without the amendments which were made by MPs in recent days.

“If, tomorrow, we had a very firm text resembling that of the Senate, we could obviously vote for it,” said Mr Marleix, a Les Républicains MP and one of the instigators of the vote to reject the bill.

However, this could also mean a version of the bill radically different from the one agreed upon by the parliament’s law commission, and one that the government’s own MPs are unhappy with, seeing it as a wasted opportunity to pass an immigration bill with their own political imprint.

Once the CMP has finished with it, the bill could be brought back before Christmas for MPs and Senators to vote on.

What does this mean for second-home owners?

The situation is developing quickly.

Many of the disagreements between political groups relate to immigration laws for migrants and asylum seekers, and it is likely these motions will take centre-stage.

This does not mean, however, that amendments relating to our readers will not be reintroduced to the bill.

You can read more about the impact on second-home amendments within the bill below.

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