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On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

France can't “endure” more economic migrants, but could do with more “expats”.

This is the fifth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

The 37 French people Emmanuel Macron had invited to his speech on 27 July were special: all had just become French by way of naturalisation. For his first big speech on immigration, the new French president was addressing (former) migrants.

“What we must do today,” he told them, “is look at the world as it is: shaken by terrorism and the economic and environmental crisis, great migration, including endured migration, on these necessary routes from the Middle East, the Balkans in the past, the whole of Africa and the Mediterranean.”

Macron took a good look at the world as it is and its “endured migration” and proposed his solution: the creation of “hotspots”, located in Libya, where migrants would be sorted “to avoid people taking foolish risks when they are not all eligible for asylum”. With or without Europe, he said, this would start “this summer” (although he conceded that Libya needs to be “stabilised” for this plan to be implemented – with the country currently engulfed in civil war, that may take some time.)

The Socialists and the National Front were both quick to condemn the measure for its “unfeasibility”, but it is symptomatic of a particular view of migration. Macron is setting apart two categories of migrants: the asylum seekers and the “economic migrants” who, he said, “come from safe countries and follow economic migration routes, feeding ferrymen, organised crime and sometimes terrorism.” France must be “rigorous” and “inflexible” with this class of migrant because “we cannot welcome them all”.

On asylum rights, he spoke to France’s ideals: pledging to reduce the asylum application process to six months (the current waiting time is 14 to 18 months) and to provide emergency housing to remove all migrants from the streets. A “pipe dream”, judged Liberation: the government’s plan to create 7,500 openings in migrant centres is a step forward, just not a big enough one.

But it is economic migration that Macron really gets wrong. “Sorting people who are eligible for asylum from economic migrants is extremely complex and very difficult to do,” says Maryse Tripier, professor in sociology of immigration at Université Paris Diderot.

She says citizens of Sudan and Eritrea fleeing poverty and dictatorship, Colombians fleeing drug traffickers, women fleeing violence, even a Syrian she met who emigrated after losing his earthenware business to a bombing, can all be considered economic migrants by France, as asylum rights ask that individuals prove they have been persecuted and will die if they return to where they come from. Even war victims like Syrians, although clearly coming from an “unsafe” country, can struggle to provide proof. “Factors for migration are multidimensional, we can’t put them easily in the box ‘economic’ or the box ‘asylum’. It’s too simplistic, it cannot really work.”

The hotspots aren’t a new idea, she says: “It externalises borders: we trade development aid funding with countries like Libya or Morocco if they accept to stem migration flux going through their territory.”

Macron’s speech linked economic migration to organised crime and terrorism – that, she says, is due to the “electoral topic” that immigration has become. Tripier regrets that European countries, that could “totally absorb” the small part of migration from Africa they receive, never set up humanitarian corridors through the Mediterranean and into Europe: “With regulated policies, there would be fewer crime and human trafficking. When we close borders, that’s when ferrymen and mafias come in.”

It’s worth noting that not all migration is deemed “endured” by the French president. American researchers, international entrepreneurs, London City bankers: Macron has tried to lure them all to France. Technically, they, too, would be economic migrants. “It works with his conception of class,” Tripier says, “the idea that we can welcome people for their competence and skills.” But it reflects on the ones France doesn’t want – there's “something about poverty, misery”, Tripier says.

Read more: The Macron Con #4: France's housing aid row is the latest indication of Emmanuel Macron's class problem

This difference in wealth or skills also plays out in what these desirable migrants are called. Tripier gives the example of her nephew, who works for a French company in Singapore: “He’s told that he’s an expat, not that he’s an immigrant. He is protected by his company, by his country of origin. These are distinctions with a social context.” It may not come as a surprise that during the presidential election, 93 per cent of French expats voted for Emmanuel Macron.

In any case, hotspots in Libya won’t prevent economic migration. “There is a right to mobility,” Tripier says. “But people should have the choice to remain or to leave. We can’t tell them, ‘No, you’re not allowed to leave.’” And development won’t stop migration flux, either, she says – when people are more educated, they become more global, move to finish their studies, to live and work abroad.

Often, the refugees Tripier talks to hope to go to England, where they know the language, or to Germany, where they know the welcome is warmer. “Economic migrants who want to come to France are those from former colonies, who already speak French and want to work, but we don’t let them in,” she says, adding that the French economy, which would benefit from migration, gets obstructed by “out of sync” politics. “In Morocco, there are Senegalese who want to come to France and say, ‘Our grandparents died in your war, our parents built your roads, and you feel like you have no debt to us.’” This, she says, is the last act of colonisation, “telling them, ‘You are useless to us, we don’t want you.’”

Of the 37 newly-naturalised French who listened to Macron’s big plans, how many realised the door had closed right behind them?

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Donald Trump's cartoon nuclear rhetoric draws on a culture of American jingoism

Senior Republicans avoided condemning Trump's incendiary speech, and some endorsed it. 

From recent headlines, it seems as though Donald Trump isn't content with his Emmy-by-proxy. The US president told the United Nations General Assembly this week: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Trump’s speech raised eyebrows for its bellicose tone, especially when contrasted with his predecessor’s endorsement of a war-averse approach. 

A widely circulated image of Trump's chief of staff John Kelly with his head in his hand might suggest that most listeners loathed the speech. But Trump said many outrageous things on the campaign trail and voters - at least a critical number of them - agreed. So how did his words go down at home? 

My contacts in international security were unwilling to go on the record condemning it. They were mainly Americans in their twenties, hoping for a government job one day, and fearful of saying anything that could be interpreted as "un-American".

The one person who would speak to me asked for their name to withheld. A former military analyst in the US Department of Defence, they told me that “the US has the military capability and legal responsibility to address threats to itself or allies". What Trump said, they suggested, should be seen in the context of the wider US institutions. "While Trump may have advocated for isolation in the past, the political and military forces he leads are built to enforce the adherence to international law and regional security," the former analyst said. "They provide a real counterweight to the bombast in Pyongyang.”

Trump's speech may have been colourful - his nickname for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, "Rocket Man", is a reference to Elton John’s mid-Cold War musical hit – but the speech should be seen as yet another reassertion of US military dominance. North Korea may boast of its Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) development,  but its arsenal is simply not well-equipped enough to present the same existential threat to the US that the USSR did at its peak. 

Rather than lacking comprehension, the analyst said of the speech: “Trump's rhetoric is intended to galvanise recognition that the current rules based order is threatened by North Korea's actions”.

Trump’s jingoism is not unique amongst the current American elite. Back in 1983, in his book, The Wizards of Armageddon, the liberal journalist Fred Kaplan characterised the hawkish US military strategy as simply ejaculating combative statements without a long-term plan. Kaplan quoted Herman Kahn, one of the early nuclear strategists, who called one proposal targeting the USSR a “war orgasm”. 

The US Senate recently passed a defence policy bill to increase military spending to $700bn, which includes $8.5bn for missile defence purposes. Overtly catastrophic language, meanwhile, has long been a staple of US foreign policy debates. In 2015, Trump's rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz, made headlines when he vowed to carpet-bomb Isis until he found out "if sand can glow in the dark". While most leading Republicans chose to stay silent after Trump's speech, a few, such as Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, publicly endorsed the message. Cruz, despite the rivalry, was among them. 

On social media, the American public are vocally divided. Some called for Trump to be denounced for his inflammatory speech, but others tweeted #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Even some Trump sceptics agreed that the North Korea “nuclear summer” needed to be kept in check.

By contrast, overseas listeners have perceived the speech, and this administration’s foreign policy, as unnecessarily incendiary. Matt Korda, a Canadian research assistant on strategic stability at the UK-based Centre for Science and Security Studies,  told me: “Kim Jong-un perceives his nuclear weapons to be the only thing guaranteeing his regime's survival”.

“He will never give them up, no matter how much Trump threatens him," Korda added. “On the contrary: Trump's threat to ‘totally destroy’ the entire country (including millions of innocent and oppressed civilians) will only tighten Kim's grip on his nuclear weapons”.

The effects of Trump’s speech are yet to fully play out, but it is clear that his words have rallied at least a section of American society, and rankled everyone else. The Donald may seem to be mirroring the culture of nuclear recklessness his North Korean opponent helped to create, but this is also the kind of hostile and hyperbolic rhetoric which fuelled his rise to power. In reality, once Trump’s unpleasant vernacular is decoded, he can be seen to be echoing the same global view that has long pervaded the collective American consciousness. Trump's speech was not addressed at his UN doubters, but rather at his domestic fan base and his allies in the South Pacific. This is not a shift in US foreign policy - it is tradition with a spray-tan.



Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman