Lacking consensus, and in the absence of the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) party, President Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with party leaders on Friday, November 17, put an end to any chance of a referendum on immigration. There was “a form of national unity” to reject the idea, in the words of Marine Tondelier, leader of the Green party.
Around the table were Macron, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, the presidents of Parliament’s chambers, and eight party leaders – and little enthusiasm for such a referendum. “There were many who said it was complicated or dangerous,” said Communist leader Roussel. “We’re going to save time,” smiled François Bayrou, the president of the centrist MoDem party, an ally of Macron. The proposal had “little chance of success,” he said. The head of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN), Jordan Bardella, who supported the project, described himself as “the only spokesman for those who want to control immigration.”
Speaking behind closed doors at the former royal abbey in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris, Macron reminded participants the referendum proposals he has put forward in recent weeks, on immigration and assisted dying, would require a constitutional reform to widen the scope of referendums – currently, the Consitution does not allow for most societal issues to be put to a nation-wide vote. To achieve this, the Assemblée Nationale and Sénat would have to adopt an identical constitutional reform bill, which would then have to be endorsed by a three-fifths majority of Congress – the two chambers meeting in a joint session. The barriers seem too high, according to participants in Friday’s meeting.
The Elysée Palace said that those in favor of the constitutional reform were Bayrou, Bardella, President of the Assembléee Nationale Yaël Braun-Pivet (of Macron’s Renaissance party) and the chief of Renaissance, Stéphane Séjourné. On the other hand, Sénat President Gérard Larcher (LR), former prime minister and Macron ally Edouard Philippe of the Horizons party, leader of centrist UDI party Hervé Marseille, and the three left-wing parties present were all opposed. Roussel of the Communists said it is “complicated to extend the possibility of holding referendums on societal issues such as immigration, as they are so broad and divisive.”
In front of the 11 participants (out of 14 invited), Macron therefore “took note” that “the majority necessary to guarantee the adoption of a constitutional reform (…) cannot be guaranteed,” the Elysée said at the end of the meeting. Marseille of the centrist UDI said it was “a donkey’s kick” from Macron to LR party president Eric Ciotti, who “wasn’t even there to defend what he’s calling for.”
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