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French police on the Champs-Elysees, Paris, on New Year's Eve. (Photo: ninara/flickr/cc)

Permanent State of Emergency? France Seeks Alarming Expanse of Police Powers

Debate to see state of emergency enshrined in the nation's constitution will begin early next month

Deirdre Fulton

Citing last year's Paris attacks as justification, the French government is seeking to expand police powers permanently—relaxing rules around the firing of weapons, enabling nighttime raids, and loosening restrictions on searching and detaining suspected terrorists, according to a draft bill seen by the newspaper Le Monde

Politico Europe reported Tuesday that the draft, sent to the French Supreme Court for review in December, lays out plans to "perennially strengthen the tools and resources at the disposal of administrative and judicial authorities, outside the temporary legal framework implemented under the state of emergency."

In November, the French Parliament voted overwhelmingly to extend the state of emergency through the end of February and to increase certain powers including allowing the government to impose a house arrest as long as it has "serious reason to think that the person's conduct threatens security or the public order."

In December, the French cabinet backed reform proposals that could see that state of emergency enshrined in the nation's constitution.

Agence France-Presse reported at the time:

Special policing powers used under the state of emergency—such as house arrests and the right to raid houses without clearance by a judge—are currently based on an ordinary law which can be challenged at the constitutional court.

In the wake of the Paris attacks that left 130 dead, President Francois Hollande called for the emergency powers to be protected from litigation by placing them in the constitution.

The constitutional reforms—which are outlined in the draft bill leaked by Le Monde—must now be passed by a three-fifths majority in the upper and lower houses of Parliament, where debates will start on February 3.

"The new bill is likely to stoke a debate about respect for civil liberties in France under the state of emergency," Politico Europe wrote, with civil society groups warning that the proposals would put many people at even greater risk of human rights violations.

Indeed, as John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's director of Europe and Central Asia declared in November: "Time and again we have seen emergency measures extended and codified until they become part and parcel of the ordinary law, chipping steadily away at human rights. In the long run, the pernicious ideology underpinning the Paris attacks can only be defeated by upholding the foundational values of the French Republic."

Meanwhile, the New York Times editorial board on Tuesday urged the French Parliament to reject "these unnecessary and divisive constitutional changes. The push to diminish civil liberties and end judicial oversight will only magnify the potential for the abuse of power, without making the public safer."


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