France yesterday presented a raft of constitutional reforms to the Council of Ministers that scorn the Charter of Fundamental Rights and sent a shock to the left and what it stands for.
The reform contains two disruptive proposals, borne on the wave of emotion and fear after the Nov. 13 attacks. One introduces a state of emergency in the Constitution, and the other creates the possibility of withdrawing French nationality to all citizens with a dual passport, even those born in France, in the event of a final sentence for terrorism.
The revocation of the constitutional right of jus soli, replaced by a perpetual state of fear, will be submitted to the Assembly’s vote on Feb. 3 and later will pass to the scrutiny of the Senate.
A strength showdown
President François Hollande wanted to give a show of strength, highlighting that he “keeps his word,” the government explained, after his martial speech before Congress (the gathered Assembly and Senate) on Nov. 22.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who the day before had assured in an interview with an Algerian radio station that the constitutional reform did not contain the deprivation of nationality for the bi-national citizens born in France, has been put in check, because she will have to defend a proposal she does not approve. The opposition has called for her resignation.
France is showing the face of Hobbes. By trying to include the state of emergency in the Constitution, the government hopes to avoid constitutional challenges to its decision to impose a national state of emergency after Nov. 13 and reconfirmed for three months (until Feb. 26) by the Parliament (whether the measure is in the Constitution or not).
The government, in the wake of piqued emotion over the ongoing terrorism “threat,” has avoided explicitly any appeals on the constitutionality of the measure, but with the final reform proposal, it avoids this risk for the future. Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that the end of the state of emergency is not close: “The risk [of new attacks] has never been greater.” A thousand French citizens are fighting in Syria or Iraq for jihad.
But the inability to contest the imposition of a state of emergency in the future opens the door to virtually any abuse of power. For example, police could prohibit any event, citing the risk to public order, circumventing the judiciary. The almost 3,000 searches and extrajudicial house arrests against environmental activists during COP21 proves this is more than a theoretical possibility.
A ‘symbolic measure’
Valls has admitted that the deprivation of nationality is a “symbolic measure.” The prime minister was doubtful about this decision until the last minute, challenged by Taubira but supported by government officials close to Hollande (Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal).
Valls wants to see a sacred union against terrorism, but the Assembly debate will be scorching and the result is uncertain, since it takes two-thirds of the votes for a constitutional reform. The Socialist Party is split, and many representatives will vote against it. The left is outraged and the leadership published a laconic statement: “The government follows the opinion of the State Council,” which had approved a constitutional state of emergency, but warned that it would serve little. The Left Front and Europe Ecology will oppose; the Greens speak of “absolute scandal.”
The right should vote in favor, although many are now emboldened to go further. Florian Philippot, the defeated candidate for president from Alsace-Lorraine-Champagne, announced a potential vote in favor by the Assembly members of the far right (two deputies, two senators) and stressed that Hollande “is Marine-izing” — that is, he is incorporating the ideas of the far right Marine Le Pen. “It is the result of the regional polls,” says the National Front leader.
The economist Thomas Piketty summed up the outrage: “The government adds infamy to economic incompetence. Not only has it been wrong on economic policies since 2012, resulting in an increase in unemployment and xenophobia, now the French government is running after the National Front, imposing a measure to deprive nationality that the left has always fought, creating intolerable inequality and stigmatization — and besides, is totally useless and ineffective in fighting terrorism — for millions of French citizens born in France, whose only fault is that they have acquired a second nationality for family reasons.”
Currently, the deprivation of nationality if convicted for terrorism applies only for those naturalized within the last 15 years.
The Socialist deputy Pascal Cherqui will vote against it. “How do we fight the extreme right and regain the program?” he asks.
Cherqui remembers the precedent of the Vichy regime, when Philippe Pétain repealed the Cremieux decrees, which in 1870 gave French nationality to Jews in Algeria (but not to the Arabs), a decision that later facilitated deportation. Justice also has an outstanding reference in Vichy with special courts set up for anarchists and communists.
Olivier Dartigolles, spokesman of the French Communist Party, described the proposed measures as a “catastrophe of the left’s values, in substance and form,” of a “painful moment for the République” and denounced the shift as “political games” to catch up with the National Front for 2017 elections.