French immigration law meets official resistance: Watchdog ruling threatens crisis for left-wing coalition

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The Independent Online
FRANCE's constitutional watchdog, led by an intimate of President Francois Mitterrand, has rejected some provisions of the conservative government's new immigration law, threatening to give the left-right 'cohabitation' its first real crisis.

Publishing its ruling just before the weekend, the Constitutional Council, whose president is Robert Badinter, a former justice minister and lawyer who is an old friend of the Socialist President, modified eight of the law's 51 articles. These included one which gave mayors the power not to marry foreigners to a French partner in cases where they suspected a marriage of convenience with the aim of obtaining residence papers.

Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist Interior Minister who proposed the new law, said the council - which examines all new legislation to ensure it conforms to the constitution - had gone against the will of the French people.

Before last March's election, which gave the right a massive parliamentary majority, opinion polls showed that illegal immigration was one of the country's main preoccupations. Illegal immigration is seen as partly responsible for unemployment of 11 per cent, and the drugs trade.

Mr Pasqua, adding that 'national sovereignty belongs to the people', said the council's decision to go against the government was 'worrying for the council itself', hinting that measures might be taken to limit its powers. He reminded the council's nine members that all institutions could be modified by referendum under the constitution. The timing of the council's decision, coming just before a holiday weekend during parliament's summer recess, means the council will be spared the immediate anger of the new and volatile National Assembly.

If Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister, decides to follow up Mr Pasqua's suggestion, this could lead to a serious clash with Mr Mitterrand after four months of tranquillity between the two political rivals. The chances are, however, that Mr Balladur will try to cool the atmosphere to maintain an unruffled appearance before presidential elections in May 1995.

Last month, the council disallowed a decision not to abide by the Schengen treaty, binding all European Community countries except Britain, Ireland and Denmark, which abolished frontier controls within the EC.

The move was known to be dear to Mr Pasqua, who believes Schengen will facilitate illegal immigration and the drugs traffic. The council said that a constitutional provision that international treaties took precedence over national laws obliged the government to respect the word of its Socialist predecessors.

Among the provisions of the new immigration law that the council rejected was the extension of detention for foreigners subject to an expulsion order from seven to 10 days. Mr Pasqua said this showed a contradiction in the council's thinking since this extension was provided for in the Schengen treaty.