French far-right candidates change stance on immigration for Ukrainian refugees

French far-right candidates change stance on immigration for Ukrainian refugees
2 min read
11 March, 2022
Presidential candidates on the French right are softening previously intransigent positions on immigration - while maintaining a hard line against Muslim refugees.
Eric Zemmour has spoken out in favour of welcoming Ukrainians on the basis of European and Christian solidarity [Getty]

Far-right presidential candidates in France are recalibrating their stance on immigration to court voters sympathetic with the plight of fleeing Ukrainians ahead of the first round of votes on April 10

Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen, both vying for space to the right of incumbent president Emmanuel Macron, have spoken out in recent days in favour of welcoming Ukrainians on the basis of European and Christian solidarity.

"We are closer to Christian Europeans… Arab or Muslim immigrants are too unlike us, and it is more and more difficult to acculturate and assimilate them," Eric Zemmour, Algerian-born former journalist turned politician, said in an interview with BFMTV news on Tuesday.

Zemmour’s comments were quickly followed by remarks by Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally. 

In an interview also with BFMTV, Le Pen said that "Ukraine is a European country, and I think it is natural in terms of regional solidarity to welcome war refugees from European countries."

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Anti-Muslim fear

The shift in attitude comes in stark contrast to previous positions of both Zemmour and Le Pen, who have been indicted for hate speech against Muslims on separate occasions. 

In the same interview with BFMTV, Zemmour said "everyone understands today that the migration of Arabs and Muslims is far from us, and it is becoming more and more difficult to assimilate and integrate them".

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Zemmour is well-known among the presidential candidates for pushing anti-Muslim policies, such as a ban on non-French names, including Mohammed. 

Le Pen has over a decade of racist comments to her name, dating back to rallies in 2010 when she compared Muslims worshipping in the street to the Nazi occupation in the Second World War. 

Franco-Russian relations

Candidates have become increasingly sensitive to the French electorate’s attitudes towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine throughout the campaign. 

Unlike previous years, foreign policy issues have created clear divides in the 2022 presidential campaign - and relations between France, Putin and Russia have cast a long shadow between candidates. 

After the escalating conflict forced all candidates to clarify their positions, they now unanimously condemn the invasion – while disagreeing on who is responsible for it.

Candidates are also divided on whether France should provide arms deliveries to support Ukrainian forces - a move which is not supported by either Zemmour or Le Pen, unlike Emmanuel Macron and Valerie Pecresse.