In normal circumstances, Emmanuel Macron would welcome a trip to Marrakech in December as an opportunity to escape cold Paris and enjoy some North African hospitality. But his date in the Moroccan city next week could not have come at a worse time. France is burning and Macron's presence on Monday at the United Nations intergovernmental conference in order to sign France up to the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration could add to the conflagration.
The United Nations states that the global compact "comprises 23 objectives for better managing migration at local, national, regional and global levels". The document has been more than two years in the making and its aim is to help the 258 million migrants around the world living outside their country of birth. According to the UN website, the Compact will address "the legitimate concerns" of the host countries while creating "conducive conditions that enable all migrants to enrich our societies through their human, economic and social capacities". The pact is non-binding but that hasn't stopped a number of nations rejecting it, with the USA, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic all refusing to put their names to the document; the issue has also caused deep fractures within Belgium's fragile coalition government. "We view some points of the migration pact very critically, such as the mixing up of seeking protection with labour migration," said Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz in explaining why his country won't be part of the pact.
The concern of Kurz is shared by Marine Le Pen's National Rally and the centre-right Républicains in France. In an interview last week with Le Figaro, Le Pen said the pact "promotes an immigration without limits" and will encourage "positive discrimination" within host countries. Le Pen also laughed at the description of the pact as non-binding. "That's not true! The text will have a judicial legitimacy that will commit all signatories."
The Républicains agree, and have challenged the president to back away from the agreement. "This harmful text will create a pull factor, a sort of International Right to Migrate," said Éric Ciotti, MP for the Alpes-Maritimes region. "In the interest of the State and its sovereignty, I call on Emmanuel Macron to refuse to sign this pact."
Macron is in a bind. On the one hand he has styled himself as the leader of the global progressives. He has spent much of this year denouncing nationalism and populism. But in France he is in the minority. A survey published last week in a Sunday newspaper laid bare the opposition of the French to immigration. Seventy-nine per cent of people polled don't want to see an increase in the number of immigrants and 64 per cent believe the country has already welcomed too many. This opposition stems from the belief, expressed by 60 per cent, that their presence leads to "problems of cohabitation" because of their different culture and customs.
At the same time a minority believe that Macron has not done enough in response to the migrant crisis, and they have noted his hypocrisy in admonishing the Italian government for their hardline approach, while simultaneously refusing to allow the migrant ship Aquarius to dock in Marseille in September, a decision that nonetheless met with the approval of three-quarters of France.
The far-left wing of the Yellow Vest movement would be furious if he backed out of the pact at the last moment. While if, as expected, he goes ahead and signs, the right wing element will see it as a craven capitulation to the U.N, which is regarded by many as just as arrogant and out-of-touch as their president. A recent report by the French senate has been leaked to the press this week and it is fiercely critical of the government's "lack of effort" in tackling illegal immigration, estimating the number of irregular workers in the country at 315,835, twice the figure of 2011. The main point of entry has become the border with Spain; this year alone, 16,000 migrants have been intercepted in the south-west of the country, mostly young men from Guinea, Mali and the Ivory Coast.
In recent days, messages have been appearing on social media sites frequented by the Yellow Vests warning that Macron is about to "sell France to the United Nations". Marine Le Pen senses an opportunity to capitalise on the resentment ahead of May's European elections, and in a press conference earlier this week she warned that signing the pact would be "an act of treason".
The Yellow Vest movement is far from over, despite the government's decision on Tuesday to suspend the fuel tax rises, and the immigration issue could be their next crusade. This one, however, is far more divisive and may splinter the movement's unity. It could also lead to even more violent scenes on the streets of Paris this weekend during the fourth round of protests. For Macron the only light at the end of the tunnel is a hi-vis jacket.