What could change for foreigners in France if far right win election?

The Rassemblement National - which has an anti-immigration agenda - won the most votes in the first round of the election

French far-right leader Jordan Bardella surrounded by media at the border with italy
Jordan Bardella, the Rassemblement National’s 28-year-old leader, could become prime minister if his party wins outright
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France’s snap parliamentary election could result in a strong win for the far right, which raises questions about how the Rassemblement National’s anti-immigration policies would affect foreigners.

If the Rassemblement National (RN) wins an absolute majority, its leader Jordan Bardella could become prime minister.

The party gained 33.15% of the vote in the first round of the elections on June 30, and already saw 39 MPs directly elected. 

They are predicted to win between 260 and 300 seats, after the second round of voting on July 7.

 Winning 289 seats would give them an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

Read more: Election first round: see how people voted in your area of France

Mr Bardella, 28, says reducing legal as well as illegal immigration is among his key concerns.

However it is unclear if the party’s stated policies of ending migration for those not coming to work and cancelling residency rights for incomers who have not worked for a year would be a priority.

The RN wants to restrict foreigners’ access to welfare, prioritise nationals for social housing and jobs, and end ‘family regroupment’, whereby foreigners working here apply for close family members to be able to join them.

It says access to French nationality by birth in France to foreign parents (droit du sol) must stop.

Anti-far-right protests have been held since President Macron dissolved parliament after the RN’s landslide win in June’s European elections. The decision has been compared by some commentators to David Cameron's offer of a Brexit referendum after Ukip won at the European elections in 2014.

Read more: French election update: political twists, turns and quotes day by day

‘Prime minister cannot do as he pleases’

Ludovic Renard, a politics expert from Sciences Po Bordeaux, said people must remember that these elections are different from the single-round ‘proportional’ European elections.

It would be “difficult” for the RN to obtain an absolute majority, with other candidates making pacts to bar them at the second round, he said. 

Some candidates from the left-wing Nouveau Front Populaire and centrist parties backing the president have already announced such pacts following yesterday's first-round results. More are expected to be announced throughout the week.

Read more: Protests by 250,000 against French far-right criticised by RN voters

If Mr Bardella becomes prime minister, he would govern in cohabitation with a centrist president and a right-wing Senate not allied to the RN, and that would “be complex, especially if it lacks a large majority”, Dr Renard said.

“The president has ways in which he can oppose the government’s actions. And he could dissolve the assembly again in a year. He could call new elections, saying: ‘You see? It’s not working’.”

Asked if the RN is still far right – it claims it is not – he said its policies are mixed. It announces policies “to please people”, such as lowering people’s bills, but it is unclear how it would fund them.

“But now they are getting closer to power, they’re starting to say some things won’t be possible – Mr Bardella for example said they wouldn’t go back to retirement at 60.

Concerning foreigners, a prime minister “cannot just do what they like”, he said. “The Constitution guarantees freedoms and rights and non-discrimination as long as the people live on our territory.

“Changes to it need specific conditions such as a vote by both MPs and Senate.” 

It might happen by referendum but there is debate over the legality of this and it would need presidential support. 

Foreigners’ rights guaranteed

As for cancelling the rights of foreigners who have not worked for a year, new laws would have to be passed. However, residency statuses often fall under treaties – such as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – and “it would be complicated to call them into question”.

“It would be like in Italy, where Meloni has not been able to achieve all her aims. Such statements please those who think their problems would be solved if foreigners were not there, but it is not so simple.” The RN has abandoned a Frexit, he said.

If the RN fails, Mr Macron would choose a prime minister who can win MPs’ confidence – “perhaps a former president, a unionist, someone politically very central...” – but governing would still be complex as MPs of different political views would have to form alliances.

Read more: ‘The French are pro-EU – as long as it does what France wants’

RN candidate Bruno Paluteau, a dentist from Bordeaux, said the party does not dislike foreigners.

“It is simply that France has five million unemployed and six or seven million in poverty, and an appalling economic and social situation, so we want to ensure that, first of all, the fruits of our economy benefit the French.” 

Purchasing power, security and immigration are priorities, he says. 

“Many compatriots are suffering, they feel insecure due to excessive, badly managed and overflowing immigration.”

They urgently want to “remove administrative blocks stopping the expulsion of illegal immigrants, and foreign people who have committed crimes”. 

They would also quickly seek to pass a law against le droit du sol. 

Asked about removing rights of those not working, he said: “It is a technical measure that I’ve not studied precisely.

“It will be applied quickly so we can fight excessive immigration. Countries around the world choose their immigration. Here it is the opposite – the immigrants choose. We say ‘no’.”

He added that the RN is mainly targeting ‘irregular’ migrants, and the ‘ridiculously small’ number of expulsion orders that are enforced. 

“Residency cards, and the law, must be respected,” he added. 

The RN is principally concerned about ‘recent’ immigration and Mr Paluteau did not think its urgent measures would apply to groups such as holders of EU long-stay residents’ cards – given after five years – or Britons with WA cards.

There would be “absolutely no Frexit”, the RN would seek to change the EU from within, as it thinks the European Commission has too much power. 

Spending measures would be funded by savings linked to reducing immigration and fraud.

We asked immigration lawyer Alexandre Gillioen, of Gillioen Avocat in Lyon, if residency based on treaties, or EU rules on long-term residents would be secure.

He said: “Yes and no. The RN’s proposals are not serious. But if they are ready to disrespect EU norms – I am thinking of their ideas on the budget and permitted debt levels – there is nothing stopping them not respecting another treaty.

“But with any treaty, if one party breaks it, the other will too – for example, if they do not respect WA rights, the French in the UK might also have cards withdrawn. So, they probably would not do so out of fear of consequences.”

Failing to respect rights of EU citizens’ families would see EU sanctions but most other kinds of cards fall under national laws, which can be changed by parliament. Rights of long-term (more than five years) residents are also protected by the EU.

Withdrawing cards that have been legally issued would be difficult, but the RN could toughen renewal requirements, Mr Gillioen said – for example, by increasing means tests.

There is also a risk that they could potentially pass laws ending a certain category of national card, such as the ‘visitor’ cards for non-working people. 

This would be “harmful”, but easier to do than removing family regroupment, which has been considered a constitutional right. 

International treaties and the rule of law

The RN would probably struggle to pass major legal changes as it would not have a Senate majority.

The Constitutional Council could also reject changes, as it did when it censured many articles from France’s recent immigration law.

“Another issue is that they have never governed, they only have a theoretical vision of things,” said Mr Gillioen. 

“Say a law is passed ruling that foreigners cannot bring their family to France, nothing is stopping court action citing the European Convention on Human Rights or the Constitution, and the court would say international treaties and the constitution are above national law, so we will cancel the law.”

The Convention includes the right to protection of private and family life and the home. The RN could not overturn the principle that international law is above national law unless they want “a head-on attack on the rule of law” and to call into question the institutions of the Fifth Republic, Mr Gillioen said.

As for removing the residency cards of those who have not worked, “they are giving the impression foreigners are layabouts who don’t work and come to profit, but most foreign people will have done some work in a given year”.

He doubted retirees would be targeted. It is unlikely there would be manpower to undertake annual checks on those with a 10-year ‘resident’ card. 

Administrative law expert Serge Slama, of Université Grenoble Alpes, confirmed that international conventions and the Constitution would both place restrictions on what the RN could do. 

For example, there are international rules protecting residency rights of those drawing unemployment benefits.

However, he said: “The arrival of the far right in power would change the rules of the game.

“They are putting on a nice front and, for example, are now more flexible about double nationality [the party previously had a policy to make it illegal if a non-EU nationality], but once in power they will have room to manoeuvre.

“We should have no illusions – they have far-right politics and we know what that looks like around the world. 

“Foreigners, Muslims, then women, gay and trans people, abortion rights etc could all come under attack.”

The co-chair of the Rift group for British people in France, Justine Wallington, said: “The RN's nationalist and eurosceptic stance might lead to stricter immigration policies although I don't believe that Withdrawal Agreement rights are at risk. 

“UK nationals living in France and not covered by the WA could see adjustments to residency rights, employment regulations, bureaucratic hurdles and access to social services. UK Nationals planning to move to France may find it more difficult to obtain visas or residency permits.”

She added: “It is crucial for UK nationals to stay informed and prepare for possible policy shifts that could affect their rights and daily lives. Although if they are elected they may only have a few years in power and changing laws takes time, the RN may change the mood of the country.”