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Bluff, bloodshed... In the Senate, behind the scenes of a week of negotiations on immigration

If the main staircase was not covered with a thick red and gold carpet, those who walked on it would have heard, that evening, the angry footsteps of Gérald Darmanin knocking against the stone.

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Bluff, bloodshed... In the Senate, behind the scenes of a week of negotiations on immigration

If the main staircase was not covered with a thick red and gold carpet, those who walked on it would have heard, that evening, the angry footsteps of Gérald Darmanin knocking against the stone. “When we have a deal, we don’t try to make people believe that we have won!”, the Minister of the Interior loses his temper in front of a Les Républicains (LR) senator. And what’s more, he adds more during the session, frankly!” The reason for his wrath? A very offensive speech from Bruno Retailleau, a few minutes earlier.

Last Wednesday, as the debates on the famous article 3 of the immigration bill, which provides for the regularization of illegal workers in so-called “shortage” professions, were coming to an end, the Hemicycle witnessed a full-blown attack. “Mr. Minister, you are not short of air! I know that in politics, chutzpah is often a quality. You want to make people believe that the system proposed by the senatorial majority is the equivalent of the one you proposed. Nay!, says the boss of the LR senators. Your system involved tens of thousands of regularizations, ours is much more quantifiable.”

Stung, Gérald Darmanin waits a moment. Before replying, a little tight smile on his lips: “Don’t let people believe, Mr. Retailleau, that you really wanted the article you submitted, otherwise we wouldn’t have had this whole story!”

This “story” is that of the long negotiations which disrupted the usual calm of the Palais du Luxembourg throughout the week, between Les Républicains of Bruno Retailleau and their centrist allies, led by Hervé Marseille. The former wish to delete article 3 at all costs, the latter adamantly holding on to it. Point of forehead against forehead, that's not the style of the house. However, this divergence worried even the President of the Upper House, Gérard Larcher, anxious to avoid the fracture of the senatorial majority. Finally, after many meetings in the shadows of the Hemicycle, the negotiations led to a consensus between the LR and the centrist Union (UC), last Tuesday.

“Everyone put water in their wine,” remembers Hervé Marseille. Until agreeing on the deletion of article 3 and on the writing of a new article “4 bis” which provides for the tightening of the criteria of the Valls circular (read page 4). “Everyone is involved in victory,” continues Hervé Marseille. The Republicans can boast of having strengthened the text and we obtained the legislative provisions to regulate the regularization of workers. As for the minister, he smiles, “he arrived in a minefield and can leave hopping”. Now everyone can breathe a little.

Also read Pierre Brochand (ex-DGSE): “Regularizing illegal immigrants in professions under pressure means starting an inexhaustible pump

“Things are better today,” whispers Senator LR François-Noël Buffet, president of the law committee. It must be said that in recent days, Bruno Retailleau was facing pressure from all sides. First, because Gérald Larcher, who absolutely wanted a text to be adopted in the Senate, was in favor of an agreement. Then, because Gérald Darmanin has increased the number of interviews with LR senators in recent weeks, seeking to convince them that a compromise was possible. “His teams work hard to get guys. He distributes the goodies: staff, police stations, small Legions of Honor, small services like that…” says a parliamentary advisor from Les Républicains.

Also read: Guillaume Tabard: “LR places the government at the back of the wall”

“Gifts” that, on the Beauvau side, we do not confirm. While brushing aside: “he does politics like everyone else.” It was hardly rare to see the minister's parliamentary advisor, Grégory Canal, trampling around the conference room and circling around the parliamentarians from the center and... the right. “When will I receive a call from the minister?”, cowardly, ironic, this senator LR, a little teasing smile on her lips. “There is a principle of reality,” confides to Le Figaro Gérald Darmanin. It was obvious, knowing that we had convinced Hervé Marseille and part of the Republicans, that there would be a compromise which would not be humiliating for anyone.

Tuesday morning, at an LR group meeting, Bruno Retailleau explains to his troops the terms of the agreement that could be concluded with the centrists. For two hours, the senators discuss. “We had to make his friends swallow that,” jokes a centrist. After climbing the towers, he had to land.” Bruno Retailleau remembers: “In our ranks, there were two clear lines: those who did not want to vote for anything and those who wanted us to come out with a text. I very quickly felt, by expressing a demanding line, that everyone was rallying around it. A solid consensus was reached. That was a win for the group. Afterwards, our centrist allies had to follow suit.”

An agreement, which, according to our information, would not be entirely to the taste of Laurent Wauquiez. Some even say that the “natural candidate” of the right for 2027, says Éric Ciotti, and potential future rival of Gérald Darmanin, would have called Bruno Retailleau several times this week, to ask him to “raise his voice” regarding vis the executive. Phone calls that both men deny. But the entourage of the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region specifies: “Laurent Wauquiez was not for the adoption of a text with regularization measures.” Measures which, despite the deletion of article 3, still appear in the new version amended by the LR senators and their centrist allies… And which go so far as to console the communist senator Ian Brossat: “Let us admit that this new article is not a step backwards, since the Valls circular does not disappear and it even enters into law. It’s a small step forward.”

An advance that Hervé Marseille illustrates as follows: “Article “4 bis” is Article 3 in disguise. It's not a carnival but almost..." The leader of the centrists in the Senate says that the services of the Upper House had proposed placing the agreement drafted in article 6. "I pointed out to them that it was two times three. And since LR is fixated on the number three… Well, it was a bit of a tease,” jokes Marseille. Sitting at the senators' refreshment bar on Thursday, Ian Brossat did not hide his disappointment with the outcome of this week of debates. “Gérald Darmanin wanted to be kind to the good guys and mean to the bad guys. Ultimately, he's just mean to all strangers. We have witnessed a real “zemmourization” of the senatorial right, with a guilty passivity of the government which did not fight for nothing”, scathes the former deputy of Anne Hidalgo. Throughout the week, the left, in a minority at the Palais du Luxembourg, suffered defeat after defeat.

Removal of state medical aid (AME), reinstatement of the crime of illegal residence, establishment of migration quotas, limitation of family reunification, facilitation of expulsions of foreigners considered dangerous... Over the days, LR has largely tightened the text of the government. “We are not going to tell stories, we are expensive,” said the ecologist Yannick Jadot, dejected. Before targeting the centrists: “With them, we are never disappointed. When it comes to going to soup, they always go there. Their principle is, first, to display convictions, then to eat them.” A bitterness which contrasts with the joy, “a bit overplayed”, slips a centrist, by Bruno Retailleau. “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have bet on arriving at the end of the week with a text that toughens our country’s migration policy so much. I was much more pessimistic, so it’s a good surprise,” says the Vendée senator.

In the Senate, the right will therefore not have broken the dishes, as Gérald Darmanin feared. It remains to be seen whether, in the Assembly, the deputies will be as cautious (read opposite). “Since the retreats, our group has proven that it has the particular talent of dividing itself,” breathes a parliamentarian. Since the agreement between the centrists and the senatorial right, the leader of the LR deputies, Olivier Marleix, has been conspicuous by his silence, he who has repeatedly spoken out against any inclusion in the law of a form of regularization.

And to make matters worse, a strange missive has ended, if not worrying, at least sowing confusion in the LR ranks. A letter sent Thursday, and signed by Olivier Marleix, to LR members, and in which he deplores an “ambiguous bill” which contains “false right-wing measures but above all, real left-wing measures”. And this, despite the toughening of the text obtained by its Senate counterpart. “It was written in October…” says a tenor. So why send it now? “You have to ask him.” A deputy whispers: “Marleix is ​​too radical.” An internal source adds: “His personal crusade against Gérald Darmanin, who in his eyes is the great traitor of the right, is irrational.”

Fractures threaten the LR group. And the first to know it is Gérald Darmanin. “What can Olivier Marleix say? Say that Bruno Retailleau’s amendment is lax? Come on, this is not reasonable and the Republicans know it very well. Let’s be serious…” retorts the Minister of the Interior. The latter also believes he knows that “there is no unanimity within the LR group, far from it, to vote against this text which is acclaimed by public opinion”. He also adds: “Around fifteen LR deputies have already let me know that they found the text very interesting.” Just as there was a compromise in the Senate, Gérald Darmanin is “certain” that there will be one in the Assembly. A façade of serenity… Calculated or feigned? The Minister of the Interior knows it, the difficulties awaiting him in the Lower House are on a completely different level.

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