What does a ‘state of emergency’ mean in France?

AFP / Lionel Bonaventure | Police patrol in Paris on November 14, 2015 at the Eiffel Tower, which has been closed to the public following a series of coordinated attacks in and around Paris late November 13, that left at least 128 people dead

French President François Hollande was quick to declare a state of emergency in the wake of Friday’s bloody terror attacks in Paris. But what does the "etat d'urgence" mean for the country and its citizens as they go about their daily lives?


The state of emergency measures are set out in a 1955 law and are designed to be used in “cases of imminent danger resulting from serious breaches of public order, or in case of events threatening, by their nature and gravity, public disaster”.

The measures give a number of exceptional powers to the authorities, including the right to set curfews, limit the movement of people and forbid mass gatherings, establish secure zones where people can be monitored and close public spaces such as theatres, bars, museums and other meeting places.

The state of emergency also gives more powers to the security services and police, such as the right to conduct house searches at any time without judicial oversight, enforce house arrest and confiscate certain classes of weapons, even if people hold them legally.

Parliament can extend measures

A state of emergency can be put in place by the French president for a maximum of 12 days, after which he must get parliamentary approval for an extension. Hollande would therefore need to get parliament's backing by November 25 if he wants to extend the measures he put in place on Friday.

The last time France declared a state of emergency was during the 2005 riots in the Paris suburbs. Back in 2005, parliament approved a three-month extension to the measures introduced by then president Jacques Chirac.

A state of emergency has only been declared one other time since the end of France's 1962 war in Algeria. That was in December 1984 amid violence in New Caledonia, a French archipelago in the Pacific Ocean east of Australia.

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