In the maquis of the texts which regulate immigration in France, there is one which lately attracts attention. This is the Franco-Algerian agreement of 1968, which grants Algerian nationals special rights when they wish to settle in France. Xavier Driencourt, who was our ambassador to Algeria for a long time, and who loves, knows and observes this country better than anyone, described the exorbitant provisions of this agreement in a recent note for Fondapol, and advocates its repeal, not without naturally anticipating the crisis that this will open with Algeria.
What will the politicians do with this recommendation? Marion Maréchal has already made it a hobbyhorse. Probably the right will also rely on this leonine agreement to increase pressure on the government, because the immigration laws in preparation are wisely ignoring this device. There is little doubt, by this yardstick, that the question of this 1968 agreement will gain momentum and become not the prerogative of experts, but a bone to gnaw in the public debate. In this respect, the public rallying of Edouard Philippe to the idea that this text must be completely overhauled weighs heavily: the subject is now at the heart of the discourse of the majority.
We must all the same be wary when expert opinions become an electoral weapon. The level of simplification and distortion quickly gave birth to twisted debates. In this case, it’s off to a good start, and it’s a little worrying. Because in truth, one thing is striking when we put this 1968 agreement into historical perspective: it is that since 1968, we French people have not changed our vision of immigration. It is always a matter of bringing an additional economic force into France, under conditions considered more or less acceptable from a social point of view – and that is all.
However, it has been half a century that we have clearly seen that immigration is not only, very far from it, an economic data that can be fungible in our public statistics, but a data that questions in depth our social model, our meritocracy, our school, our culture, our view of the Other. It’s a phenomenon that has come to impact many of our certainties, to question many of our habits, to question many of our beliefs. How could it have been otherwise?
Ease and cowardice
On this, it seems to me that there is much more fundamental and much more fruitful work to be done, which is to question the way in which, for fifty years, we have largely failed with our immigration. For what ? Because we thought that these proletarians who came from afar would stay in their place, while they obviously created new social dynamics, launched new challenges to the Republic. Faced with this, we had two reflexes: the security reflex (police and ghettoization) or the humanitarian reflex (politics of the city and victimization). But where is the reflection of simple humanism? Where has gone the faith that we thought we had in school, in culture, in education to give everyone their place? This was only a question of ZEP, REP, sidings and social grants, which gradually undid the meritocracy which we had made the engine of the Republic, and which nevertheless generations of immigrants had been for us the most striking and reassuring illustration. For a Debbouze or a Zidane, how many failures accepted, how many renunciations accepted?
The real question is: are we innocent of the fruits of our migration policy? Haven’t we on our own given in on many of the foundations of our social grammar out of ease and cowardice? Should we rely on immigrants to clear the bill for our renunciations or should we look at ourselves in the mirror of our own failures, which are so many complacency that no one has asked of us at this point? This Franco-Algerian agreement may no longer be up to date, but before making it the red flag of future debates, it might be time to ask ourselves whether we are capable of offering immigrants, in particular those from the South, something other than sweat, slums, and also quite a bit of contempt, and if our willingness – sometimes bitter – to offer newcomers a Social Security card is not a little, and moreover in addition, the balance of any account of our sad mediocrity.