French President Emmanuel Macron faced cracks within his ruling alliance on Wednesday as Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau tendered his resignation in protest at a controversial immigration law that the far right's Marine Le Pen hailed as an "ideological victory" for her camp.
The bill, a compromise between the centrist president's party and the conservative opposition, illustrates a rightward shift in politics in much of Europe as governments try to curb the rise of the far right by being tougher on immigration.
It also showed the difficulties for Macron of governing without a parliamentary majority, which he lost in the June 2022 election after winning a second presidential mandate.
Health Minister Aurelien Rousseau told Le Monde daily he would resign in protest against the new law.
"It's not possible for me to defend this text," Le Monde quoted Rousseau, a former communist, as saying.
Confirming the resignation, government spokesman Olivier Veran said Rousseau did not attend a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning and would be replaced on a temporary basis by junior minister Agnes Firmin Le Bodo.
Quizzed on the turmoil in cabinet, Véran added: "There is no ministerial revolt."
The controversial new rules – including migration quotas, making it harder for immigrants' children to become French citizens, and delaying migrants' access to welfare benefits – were added to the bill to win the support of right-wing lawmakers for its passage.
The bill makes it easier to expel illegal migrants, while watering down plans to loosen curbs over residency permits for workers in labour-deprived sectors.
Those conditions caused unease among Macron's more left-leaning lawmakers, and dozens either abstained or gave it the thumbs-down in a vote on Tuesday, and there were reports of more ministers possibly resigning.
Brittany lawmaker Jean-Charles Larsonneur told France Bleu radio that he was leaving the centrist Horizons group, part of Macron's alliance, saying the law breached "republican values".
"I think the majority is unfortunately shattered," he said.
Even the lower house of parliament's president, Yaël Braun-Pivet, who voted in favour of the bill, told BFM TV she was "terribly bothered" by some of its content, in particular delaying access to welfare benefits for migrants with children.
The rebels in Macron's party could further weaken his hold on parliament and complicate the rest of his five-year mandate.
Just six months before European Parliament elections in which immigration will be key, the adoption of the bill could also boost two-time presidential runner-up Le Pen, who called the rejigged bill "a great ideological victory" for her far-right party.
Macron was set to defend the migration law in a TV interview in the evening, and was also likely to try and move on and appease his camp.
Speaking on France Inter radio, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said the bill responded to the French people's worries about security and immigration. She rejected talk of a crisis in Macron's camp.
"We've done our job, we wanted a text with useful measures that our citizens were calling for," she said, adding: "Now let's move on."
Borne said that the government would ask the Constitutional Council to review the adopted bill. This opens the door to the council striking down some of the tougher measures if it deems them unconstitutional.
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Macron won his two presidential mandates in 2017 and 2022 after voters rallied behind him to bar Le Pen from winning, and left-wing MPs said the rejigged migration bill was a betrayal of promises made to fend off right-wing ideas.
According to statistics office INSEE, the immigration share of France's population has grown steadily over the decades.
The number of immigrants – people living in France but born abroad – stood at 5% in 1946, reaching 7.4% in 1975 and 8.5% in 2010, to just over 10% of the population, or 2.5 million people, in 2022. About a third have become French.
Other governments across Europe have also opted for tougher migration policies, and the European Union itself reached an agreement on Wednesday to reshape its migration and asylum rules to try to limit the number of incoming migrants.
Migrant arrivals in the EU are way down from a 2015 peak of over 1 million, but have steadily crept up from a 2020 low to 255,000 in the year to November, with over half crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Italy or Malta.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)