The French government may reintroduce border controls in an attempt to pacify critics of the Schengen area. EURACTIV France reports.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced plans to assign several hundreds of million euros to refugee hosting projects and opened the question of reestablishing border controls during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday (16 September).
In the half-empty hemicycle of the French National Assembly, the premier defended the government’s choices, which he said were “guided by an intelligent and firm heart”.
Manuel Valls told lawmakers that he rejected the discourse of those “who tell us: we have to close all the borders”, as much as those who say “We must be completely open.”
Beside the additional budget for the refugees, he also announced increased funding to tackle homelessness and the creation of 900 jobs in the security forces to counter illegal immigration.
The prime minister also stressed that France “would not hesitate” to re-establish temporary border controls “in the coming days or the coming weeks”, as Germany has already done. France has already re-established checks on its Italian border.
Understanding public opinion
80% of French citizens are in favour of these measures, according to a survey carried out by Elabe for BFM TV.
Speaking in the Senate after Valls’ speech, Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve said that deportations of asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected were up 20%. “We aim to pursue this trend,” he added.
The left wing parties of the French parliament joined forces to highlight France’s “moral responsibility” to host asylum seekers fleeing war in Syria and Iraq. They emphasised their conviction that France could overcome this challenge, as it did with the Spanish refugees fleeing Franco’s rule and the Vietnamese and Cambodian boat people.
Left-wing MPs also came together to condemn the European disunity on the matter. “In Europe, we do not abandon our responsibility for solidarity,” said Bruno Le Roux, the head of the Socialist party delegation. He added that he was “ashamed of the statements and decisions of the Hungarian authorities”.
Some attacked President François Hollande over his plan to accept 24,000 migrants over two years, calling it “modest” (Sergio Coronado, Green), or even “pathetic” (André Chassaigne, Left Front).
Schengen under fire from the right
Philippe Vigier, an MP from the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI), hailed the plan as “late but brave”, but said France needed a system to “distinguish between refugees and illegal immigrants”. He also aired his opinion that “Schengen is dead”.
Republican MP Valérie Pécresse shared this assessment of Europe’s border-free zone, and added that France should “send illegal immigrants back home to make way for the refugees”.
After being thrown into disarray by Angela Merkel’s decision to accept large numbers of refugees in Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republican party has tried to pull itself back together around a new proposal for the future of the EU’s free movement area, known as “Schengen 2”.
Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the creation of a temporary “war refugee” status, which could be withdrawn when peace returned to the refugee’s country of origin.
The Republican party also held a “working day” on immigration on Wednesday (16 September), where it asked its members a series of 11 questions on, for example, whether or not they supported “the suspension of Schengen” or a “reduction of Europe’s social attractiveness”.
For political opponents of the former president, this is further evidence of a “swing towards the extreme right”.
Manuel Valls rejected the idea of a war refugee status, which he said “already exists”. He added that “Those who think they can get rid of the right to asylum like this are mistaken.”
The uncharacteristically united left also decried the National Front’s desire to abolish the Schengen treaty, saying they were determined not to allow “demagogues” to decide on issues that were “too important”.