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Migration politics

Ahead of next year's elections President Macron's government wants to look tougher on migration

France's decision to halve the number of visas available to Moroccans and Algerians and reduce by a third those for Tunisians has triggered a backlash and has re-energised the migration debate in Europe. Two extreme right-wing contenders are vying for support against a field of centre-right and left-wing candidates ahead of the first round of presidential elections in France (AC Vol 62 No 11, Cash for 'clearing houses').

France accused the three countries of failing to provide authorities with consular pass documents that allow them to expel individuals to their home countries when visa requests are denied. A public quarrel between France's President Emmanuel Macron and Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune over colonial history has poisoned relations further.

Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita called the visa decision 'unjustified', saying that his country 'has always acted responsibly on the issue of illegal migration'. That is surreal in French eyes. It comes just months after Morocco opened its border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, in retaliation for Madrid providing medical treatment for an official from the Polisario Front.

Algeria summoned the French ambassador to protest against the visa decision, with Foreign Minister Amar Belani describing France's decision as 'disproportionate'.

President Macron's move seems motivated by a wish to look tough on migration ahead of next year's elections. Visa quotas are one of the few measures that European countries can use to pressure African states on migrant returns.

In the first six months of this year, 22 Algerians were expelled from French territory, although 7,731 visa requests were rejected. For Morocco, there were 80 expulsions against 3,301 failed visa requests, and for Tunisia it was 131 expulsions from 3,424 failed visa applications (AC Vol 59 No 22, Don't call them transit camps).

Morocco has become a major gateway for illegal migration into Europe since nationals of many African states can visit without visas.

Amendments to the Schengen visa code by EU ministers in June 2019 launched a mechanism that would use visa processing as leverage with non-EU countries on the return of illegal migrants.

The new Pact on Migration and Asylum proposed by the European Commission last September sets out a common system for EU Member States on the return of non-eligible migrants.

The post-Cotonou agreement concluded this year features new commitments from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries on return and re-admission. France's aggressive stance on visas could signal more assertive European tactics on treaty commitments (AC Vol 61 No 25, Old treaty rolls over).

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