We must urgently draw up and apply both a national and a European immigration policy.
Éric Zemmour lit a firecracker under a lackluster presidential election campaign by putting immigration at the heart of public debate and throwing both the right and the far right into confusion. His theory of the “great replacement” is pure fiction. It is wrong and dangerous to confuse immigration with Islamism or with asylum. And yet, Éric Zemmour is right to denounce the denial that has surrounded immigration for decades, as well the absence of any policy in this area, both of which exasperate people.
Because ethnic and religious statistics are not acceptable, people are ill-informed about immigration, and this engenders fantasies. Today, immigrants account for 10.2% of the French population as compared to 7.3% in 1999.
This is a high proportion, but not unusual throughout European countries. On the other hand, our country shows two exceptional features. Firstly, immigration goes back a long way and has been continuous since the 1950s. This means that, if one takes account of the second generation, a quarter of the population has a direct link with immigration, which places France on the same level as the USA (where 26% of the population is of foreign origin). Secondly, immigration now comes from different places: whereas, up until the 1990s, one out of every two immigrants came from Europe, 52% now come from Africa.
France has also failed in two ways in terms of immigration. The first failure is the loss of control of the inflow and lack of checks at points of entry into France. Since 2000, the number of residence permits issued has increased by 65%, and requests for asylum have tripled. Also, the number of illegals may be estimated at between 700,000 and 900,000. At the same time, 92% of compulsory orders to leave France have not been carried out, which undermines confidence in the rule of law. The second failure is lack of integration. The immigrant population is concentrated in ghettoes located on the outskirts of major cities. The result is a threefold failure in terms of education, jobs and poverty: 18% of immigrant children don’t pass their brevet [the assessment at the end of middle school, age 14], the unemployment rate for immigrants is twice as high as the average for the rest of the working population, and the poverty rate is nearing 40%.
This situation is untenable. Temporarily put on hold by the Covid epidemic, the pressure of immigration from Africa can only increase because of the development of the continent’s demographic. It will have 2.5 billion inhabitants in 2050. The block on integration causes whole sections of the population and of the country to fall into lawlessness and violence, including hybrid versions of delinquency and terrorism.
Therefore, as much for social cohesion and the maintenance of civil peace as for our security, we must urgently draw up and apply both a national and European immigration policy. There is no sense to zero immigration, but there is no right to immigrate or any duty to accept immigrants unconditionally. Hence, there are three priorities.
Firstly, it is imperative to take back control over Europe’s external borders. This is the pre-condition for the maintenance of freedom of movement within Europe.
Secondly, Frontex should be made into a real border police force for the continent, with permanent staff as well as the legal and operational ability to turn back illegal immigrants.
Thirdly, a special effort has to be made in the Mediterranean, where there must be an integrated surveillance and intervention force.
It is perfectly justified to fix immigration quotas according to the needs of our economy and to impose strict criteria with regard to fluency in French, access to accommodation and work, and adhesion to Republican values.
On the other hand, the right to asylum is essential in order to protect victims of oppression: it simply has to be unified throughout the EU by creating an agency, applying the rules strictly, and making sure that those who are rejected are directed to platforms in their countries of origin.
As a final point, there is no sense in accepting immigrants and refugees if there is no integration into the national community. This means a huge effort in terms of education and the insertion of immigrants into the labor market. In return, immigrants must commit themselves to abide by the laws and values of the Republic. Germany has shown that this is perfectly possible because; six years on, almost all the refugees accepted in 2015 speak German and half of them have found jobs. Immigration is not the reason why France has fallen behind; it is one of the symptoms of the paralysis of its institutions and the ineffectiveness of its public policies.
In this field as well as others, we must stop putting up with the situation and take action.
(Column published in Le Figaro, 4th October 2021)