Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech in Calais in one of France’s most notorious refugee camps. The camp has the derogatory name “The Jungle,” and while it is far from being the largest refugee encampment in the country – let alone Europe – Macron’s speech marks an important shift in French immigration policy.
France is no stranger to the social, political, and even economic tensions that accompany the discussion surrounding refugees and immigration. Last year, France held a crucial election, which pitted far-right political ideals versus far more progressive ones, represented by the politics of Marine Le Pen and Mr. Macron, respectively. Though Macron won, and ran his campaign promising to put French affairs first (particularly in relation to security matters), it was a very contested race, where the French populace had the difficult task of choosing between a more social and progressive nation, and a more secure one (with stricter immigration and refugee policy measures.)
It is also worth noting that the issue of security was especially relevant in France since the country has suffered from many terrorist incidents as of late – epitomized by the commando-style attack on the Bataclan concert hall, as well as the truck attack in Nice – where voters, especially metropolitan ones, were wary of the prospect of a massive influx of would-be terrorists. While the notion that refugees are terrorists is extremely xenophobic and misguided, politicians like Le Pen capitalized on this fear, and almost won.
As a pragmatist, Macron understands that there is a significant number of French nationals who still fear the prospect of another terrorist attack, and has thus taken measures to placate discontent not only among voters, but also to pacify intra-party discontent. Thus, his speech in Calais was intended to outline his government’s new approach to migration, making it clear that “there would be no tolerance of illegal settlements in or around [the camp]” and is unequivocally representative of mounting pressures on his administration’s approach towards refugees. Furthermore, his hour-long speech was intended to deter would be asylum-seekers, saying that their efforts were at a “dead end,” should they arrive in the French port city.
Moreover, these events are occurring against the backdrop of tectonic movements in global politics – the most notorious cases, of course, being the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has set the tone for the normalization of closed borders, and the emergence of Brexit in Europe. In fact, many parts of the Old Continent are experiencing a resurgence in far-right movements: Germany saw the rise of PEGIDA, Poland saw one of the largest recent alt-right marches, and Austria, which will head the EU next year, is currently being run by the Austrian People’s Party which takes a hard line stance on refugee policy.
With hope, Macron will reconsider his new migratory approach, as the subject of refugees
and asylum seekers is too nuanced to deliver in an hour-long speech.