- Hollande plans constitutional reform to consolidate authority
- Provisions for state of emergency also to be added to text
President Francois Hollande is seeking to underpin the government’s powers to strip dual-nationality terrorists of their French citizenship and invoke a state of emergency when the country is under threat.
Hollande’s cabinet on Wednesday approved his plan to modify the French constitution to extend the government’s power to remove French nationality from people convicted of terrorism if they have another passport. The government also agreed to formalize the basis for the state of emergency that has been in effect since last month’s attacks in and around Paris. Parliament will start reviewing the changes in February.
“We must establish a constitutional basis for the crisis regime,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said at a press conference following the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee presidential palace. “The threat of terrorism weighs heavily on our country.”
France’s 1958 constitutiondoesn’t include references to the state of emergency -- used when the country faces an imminent threat -- that was created in 1955 by General Charles de Gaulle during the war in Algeria. The state of emergency gives the government special powers to override checks on its authority, though it doesn’t go as far as the state of siege, which is part of the constitution, and installs a military rule.
France has stripped seven terrorists of their nationality since 2007, though they were all born outside the country. The constitutional change will mean the government can also rescind the rights of French-born dual nationals.
Still, Valls insisted that the measure will include provisions to ensure no one is left stateless. Members of Hollande’s Socialist Party and his own Justice Minister Christiane Taubira voiced concerns and critics over the measure, which was initially proposed by former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande decreed the state of emergency on the night of the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris. A few days later, the French Parliament voted to extend the crisis regime for three months. It was the first time the state of emergency had been invoked since the war in Algeria in the 1950s.
Last month’s attacks were conducted by an undetermined number of gunmen and suicide bombers in multiple locations in Paris including the Bataclan concert hall and the area around the Stade de France on the outskirts of the capital. In January, separate attacks led by three French men on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher store left 17 people dead.
The French president will need to win a three-fifths majority in a joint session of the upper and lower houses to modify the constitution.
Changing the state of emergency’s status “is full of dangers,” said Jacques Toubon, a former justice minister who heads the government’s civic-rights watchdog. “We have already noticed a certain number of abuses” in the past month, he told France 2 television yesterday.
The special powers currently in place allow the government to dissolve groups that it considers to be a threat to public order and put members of these groups under house arrest. Security forces can place any person under house arrest if it considers there are “serious reasons to think their behavior is a threat to security or public order.”