French Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau leaves after a cabinet meeting at the presidential Elysée Palace in Paris, on December 12, 2023.

France’s health minister has resigned over the adoption of a controversial immigration law backed by the far-right, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday, December 20, while denying there was any rebellion within President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet.

Government spokesperson Olivier Véran said Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau did not attend a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning and would be replaced on a temporary basis by junior minister Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, who until now has been minister for territorial organization and health professions.

The government spokesperson went on to reject accusations made by opponents of the bill that it contained “national preference” measures, particularly in relation to the payment of social benefits. “There is nothing to do with national preference,” he defended, before denouncing the “unhealthy intentions” and “intellectual concealment” of the far right “to claim victory.”

While several ministers – Sylvie Retailleau (higher education), Patrice Vergriete (housing), Roland Lescure (industry) and Clément Beaune (transport) – met Tuesday evening to discuss “political initiatives to be taken” following the adoption of the immigration bill, Véran stated that “there is no ministerial rebellion.”

Read more Article réservé à nos abonnés Adoption of immigration law opens rift within Macron’s governing coalition

Around a quarter of the 251 lawmakers in Macron’s camp voted against the bill or abstained and several left-wing ministers have registered their opposition to the bill.

Macron was expected to address the reform in a television interview on Wednesday evening, while Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne sought to put on a brave face, saying the adoption of the law had not provoked a “crisis in the majority.”

Probably unconstitutional

Speaking on France Inter, Borne admitted that some of the provisions were probably unconstitutional, adding that the text “would have to evolve” once it had been examined by the Constitutional Council after referral by Macron. “We wanted to pass a law on useful, effective measures that our fellow citizens expect, with two objectives: to remove more quickly and more effectively those who have no right to be in France, and to better integrate those we choose to welcome,” she said.

Read more Article réservé à nos abonnés French immigration law: Le Pen’s kiss of death

A key element of the law is that social security benefits for foreigners will now be conditioned on five years of presence in France, or 30 months for those who have jobs. Migration quotas can also now be agreed and there are measures for dual-national convicts being stripped of French nationality.

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“It’s a total victory for the ideas defended by Marine Le Pen,” said far-right lawmaker Jean-Philippe Tanguy. The head of the conservative Republicans (LR) party, Eric Ciotti, hailed the adoption of the law as a “historic victory for the right.”

The left-wing opposition slammed the measures. The head of the Socialist lawmakers in the Assemblée, Boris Vallaud, accused the government of “giving in to the most rancid ideas.” Radical left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon denounced a “disgusting victory.”

On Wednesday, EU countries and lawmakers reached an agreement on an overhaul of the bloc’s laws on handling asylum-seekers and migrants, officials said. The issue has taken on a harder political edge in Europe in recent years with the rise of nationalist anti-immigrant parties in several EU countries, including Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Read more Macron’s immigration law marks a political and moral rupture

Le Monde with AFP

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