France seeks to strip dual nationals of citizenship in terror cases

Screengrab of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls unveiling the proposed constitutional reform on December 23, 2015.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday detailed a controversial constitutional amendment proposal that would strip dual nationals convicted of terrorism of their French citizenship.


Announcing the proposals at a news conference in Paris Wednesday, Valls noted that, “The government has decided to submit a request to parliament to extend the stripping of nationality to all bi-nationals. The scope of this provision will be strictly limited, and will only apply to people who have been sentenced by a judge for committing crimes against the nation, which include terrorist crimes.”

The proposed reforms are set to be debated in parliament in February 2016 and must be passed by a majority of both houses of parliament, where support from three-fifths of lawmakers is required.

The measure has exposed a divide within the ruling Socialist party, with left-wing members opposing the controversial constitutional amendment.

On Tuesday, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira voiced her opposition to the measure, telling an Algerian radio station that the stripping of dual nationals of citizenship “would not help the fight against terrorism in any way” and that the proposal had been dropped from the constitutional amendment bill.

Taubira, who was present at Wednesday’s news conference with Prime Minister Valls, declined to be drawn into the controversy, maintaining, “The president speaks first and he did so at the Versailles Congress. The president also gets the last word.”

In an address to both houses of parliament at a special session in Versailles shortly after the deadly November 13 Paris attacks, French President François Hollande called for a constitutional amendment that would allow dual citizens to be stripped of their French citizenship and barred from the country if they are a terrorism risk.

U-turn on dual nationals

Following a period of intense behind-the-scenes discussions, the government has decided to go ahead with the proposed reform, which would apply only to French nationals who hold another citizenship; a 1961 UN convention, of which France is a signatory, requires nations to avoid rendering a person stateless.

The move is fiercely opposed by many left-wingers from Hollande’s Socialist Party and by human rights groups, who fear that it would lead to discrimination against people with dual nationalities.

“This indicates that the Left is not very comfortable with this reform,” explained Bruno Cautrès, a political analyst and the Paris-based Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po.

“The Left in France has always felt that presidential power can be potentially excessive and is always defending parliamentary powers rather than executive orders.”

The controversial proposal to strip dual nationals charged in terror offences of their French citizenship was first proposed by far-right parties before it was taken up by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right party. Following the November 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, the majority of the ruling Socialist appeared to support the move.

“It looks like François Hollande is really supporting this and will not have any difficulty getting a majority in parliament,” said Cautrès. “The Right is clearly in favour of the measure and I think, so do the majority of Socialist deputies. But the Left of the Left will show that they are still present and they want something else. This measure to strip dual nationals of French nationality will probably be at the centre of a very difficult position between the Left and the Left of the Left.”

France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d' État, has given a lukewarm backing to the plan and the government appointed rights watchdog has come out against it.

Under an extended state of emergency

The latest plan to revise the constitution was first announced by Hollande in his November 16 address to a special parliamentary session.

A 12-day state of emergency was imposed on the night of the attacks and was later extended for three months.

The emergency policing powers allowed under the state of emergency – including preemptively placing people under house arrest and the right to raid domiciles without judicial oversight – are currently based on a law that can be challenged at the Constitutional Court.

More than 3,000 raids have taken place since the Paris attacks, leading to 360 house arrests and 51 people being jailed.

But there have been criticisms over the violence of the police raids as well as cases of mistaken identity. Some people have lost their jobs because they were prevented from leaving their homes, despite not having been tried or sentenced in court.


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app