He had been questioned by the sovereign pontiff, he answers by quoting Michel Rocard. While Pope Francis called on Europe not to remain indifferent to the fate of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, President Emmanuel Macron was keen to respond on Sunday evening, assuring that the France "did its part". And, above all, by recalling that he wanted to control immigration flows at the source, by reusing a well-known political maxim: "We cannot accommodate all the misery of the world."
Attributed to Michel Rocard, this quote comes from statements by the Prime Minister dating from 1989, during the television program "Sept sur Sept", in front of the journalist Anne Sinclair. This speech was intended, at the time, to justify the hardening of the government's policy on immigration.
"We cannot accommodate all the misery in the world. The France must remain what it is, a land of political asylum (...) but no more. (...) It should be noted (...) that in 1988, we turned back 66,000 people at our borders. In addition, tens of thousands of expulsions from the national territory have been carried out. And I expect that for 1989 the figures will be a little stronger," said Michel Rocard.
This image of the "misery of the world" that the France cannot carry, the Socialist Prime Minister will take it up several times in speeches and reports between 1989 and 1990, recalls Libération.
"Truncated" statements, Rocard said
But in 1993, everything changed, explains Le Monde Diplomatique. Michel Rocard goes back on his statements, in order to differentiate himself from the right-wing government of Charles Pasqua, who invokes the expression "zero immigration" to describe his rigorous policy on the subject.
In 2009, Michel Rocard persists and signs, and ensures that his statements have been truncated. "The France and Europe can and must welcome their full share of the world's misery," he said in an article published by the newspaper Libération.
"An unfortunate inversion, which made me evoke at the beginning of the sentence the inevitable limits that economic and social constraints impose on any immigration policy, played the worst of tricks on me: separated from its context, truncated, mutilated, my thought was constantly invoked to support the conceptions furthest from mine," he defended then.
An expression repeated several times by Macron
Despite this, the formula has become ingrained in French political discourse, and has been taken up many times by different leaders who assume their anti-immigration position. As in 2012, by Manuel Valls then Minister of the Interior, who assures, during the evacuation of Roma camps, that the France "can not accommodate all the misery of the world and Europe".
"The France cannot accommodate all the misery of the world, as Michel Rocard said," said Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of a visit to a Parisian center of the Restos du cœur https://t.co/s0AE10zTZm pic.twitter.com/4NXJAIf4sQ
— franceinfo (@franceinfo) November 21, 2017
Later, it is Emmanuel Macron who repeats this formula over and over again, and this since his election in 2017. "If you are not in danger and so on, you have to go back to your country. I can't give papers to all the people who don't have any. How else do I do it afterwards? We take our part but we can not take all the misery of the world, as Michel Rocard said, "he said for example during a visit to the Restos du cœur to a woman in an irregular situation.
This "little sentence", he will reproduce it in 2019, at the opening of a debate in the National Assembly on immigration. And he repeated it two years later, again during an exchange with a man who had been waiting for eight years to get papers. "We are doing our part, but we cannot accommodate everyone," he said at the time. Enough to confirm the strict line wanted by the president on the subject of immigration... Far from the one Michel Rocard wanted to defend... On the end.