France's Macron ‘to end state of emergency’, but keep its anti-terror powers
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President Emmanuel Macron’s government wants to end a 14-month 'state of emergency' in France, but at the same time integrate several of its exceptional anti-terrorism powers into common law, alarming judges and civil liberty groups.
Warrant-less property searches and house arrests, two controversial measures currently used by French security officials under special state of emergency powers, could become ordinary policing practices under a new bill being sponsored by the country’s new government.
The text was submitted for review to the Council of State, a body providing legal advice to France’s executive branch, on Wednesday, with excerpts published by leading French daily Le Monde. “Almost all of the state of emergency measures will become the law of the land,” the newspaper, which had seen a copy of the bill, wrote.
France granted the police special powers in the wake of multiple deadly terrorist attacks over the past two and a half years. Former president François Hollande originally declared the state of emergency in November 2015, when jihadists killed 130 people in simultaneous attacks across the Paris area.
The new bill would also normalise banning protest marches, shutting down places of worship suspected of sharing extremist views, forcing people under house arrest to give police access to their electronic devices and using electronic tagging for purposes of surveillance.
Police could implement these measures without oversight of a judge, with authority transferred to the police prefecture and the interior ministry.
“There is only one difference: these measures would now only apply to terrorism,” Radio France International wrote on Thursday. “But the very essence of the state of emergency remains the same, judicial authorities will be relegated, and must only be kept informed [of decisions].”
Judges and legal advocates immediately cried foul following Le Monde’s revelation on Thursday.
“They tell us we’re ending the state of emergency, but they are actually making it eternal. It’s an intellectual scam,” Marie-Jane Ody, vice president of a prominent union representing judges, told French newspaper Le Figaro.
“Imagine a fascist-like group rises to power. All the legal instruments would be in place to commit abuses,” Ody added.
The League of Human Rights rejected the notion the proposed bill would only affect suspected terrorist plotters, saying the state of emergency has already been exploited by the previous French government, to curtail union members and activists.
“These measures would trample individual and shared liberties and would lead us toward an authoritarian state,” the League said in a statement on its website. “Far from relating only to terrorist acts, these measures would be applied to a wide range of offences. Anyone could become a victim of arbitrary decisions.”
Last month Amnesty International accused the French government of exploiting the state of emergency to reject more than 150 petitions for public protests in recent months.
There were also concerns expressed over the constitutional basis for Macron’s security reforms and inconsistencies with international treaties to which France is legally bound.
The state of emergency declared in November has been extended on five different occasions by French lawmakers and will legally end on July 15. Macron’s government has signalled it will ask that it be extended once again until November.
His predecessor Hollande admitted a permanent state of emergency would become “meaningless”, but failed to craft an exit strategy in the face of recurring terrorist incidents in France.
The state of emergency has been heavily criticised by left-leaning groups, notably when it was used to confine environmental activists to their homes during the COP 21 international climate conference in Paris in December 2015, and to restrict a wave of labour protests in 2016.
France’s constitutional court on Friday struck down one of the measures in the existing state of emergency that the government cited last year when it moved to ban the union and student-led protests.
Le Monde reported that the new bill would be presented at a government cabinet meeting on June 21, three days after legislative elections which Macron’s political party is expected to win by a landslide.