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Socialists' security man named France’s new justice minister

© Patrick Kovarik, AFP | Jean-Jacques Urvoas arrives at the Elysée Palace on February, 18, 2015.

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2016-01-27

French lawmaker Jean-Jacques Urvoas, known for his parliamentary work on surveillance and security issues, was named the country’s new justice minister on Wednesday following the resignation of Christiane Taubira.

Urvoas, 56, will take over from Taubira, who enraged conservatives by spearheading France’s gay marriage law in 2013. More recently, she publicly disagreed with her Socialist allies over the government’s bid to strip French nationality from dual citizens convicted of terrorism.

Representing the region of Brittany since 2007, Urvoas is a confidant of Prime Minister Manual Valls who shares his hawkish approach to deterring crime and fighting terrorism.

“His appointment may be shocking for people concerned about the erosion of civil liberties,” French political scientist Thomas Guénolé told FRANCE 24, adding that Urvoas is best known for crafting a recent surveillance law.

The law has been dubbed the “French Patriot Act” by detractors, in reference to the sweeping anti-terrorism legislation passed in the United States in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The Socialists' security man

A jurist by training and a member of the Socialist Party since the age of 18, Urvoas made a name for himself among security and defence experts before he caught Valls's attention.

In 2009, Lille Mayor Martine Aubry, then the leader of the Socialist Party, made Urvoas her top security adviser.

As a lawmaker in France’s National Assembly he chairs the powerful Constitutional Laws commission, is a member of the parliamentary group on intelligence gathering, and is also part of the commission that oversees wiretapping.

Valls and Urvoas have worked closely on the security dossier since 2011. Valls reportedly asked President François Hollande to name Urvoas as his successor at the interior ministry in April 2014. Instead, Hollande picked Bernard Cazeneuve.

French daily Libération said Urvoas was well liked by both fellow Socialists and MPs from the main right-wing opposition party, Les Républicains (formerly the UMP). He is reputed to be a tireless worker with encyclopaedic knowledge of the subjects he takes on.

With Urvoas at the helm of France’s justice ministry, Valls has a better chance of winning enough support for the government's controversial constitutional reforms – which are meant to help security agencies fight terrorism at home, but which some see as a threat to civil liberties.

In striking contrast to the outgoing Taubira, Urvoas nevertheless shares certain interests with his predecessor. He supports the prison reforms she enacted, and has reportedly donated up to €15,000 of his parliamentary expense fund to the left-leaning Prison Observatory rights group.

Date created : 2016-01-27

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