In order to better understand the bills, I will start with a quick explanation of the French legislative process. There are two distinct ways of introducing bills: A proposed bill (proposition de loi), which is introduced by a member of either the National Assembly or the Senate, or a governmental bill (projet de loi), which is introduced directly by the prime minister or by a minister on behalf of the prime minister. When a proposed bill is introduced, it is discussed in turn by each chamber of the parliament – the National Assembly and the Senate – in a parliamentary shuttle (navette parlementaire) to reach a compromise and pass the bill, thereby becoming law. The government has the power to stop this process after two sessions per chamber. In the case of a governmental bill, the text is reviewed first by the Council of State (Conseil d’État) for legal advisory approval and then the Council of Ministers before reaching the parliamentary shuttle. In both cases, however, the government is empowered to fast-track the parliamentary shuttle and limit the review process to one reading per chamber.
The “Global Security” Bill
In general terms, the “global security” bill constitutes a thorough reform of the police and a significant strengthening of the police state. It is currently on its way to the Senate and is expected to be examined (with the possibility of introducing amendments) and to be passed in the coming months. The bill addresses three aspects of policing in France. Firstly, the bill extends the powers of the Municipal Police by increasing its powers, among others, by granting it access to CCTV and types of video surveillance, which has been reserved until now to the other two components of the French police, the National Police and the National Gendarmerie.
Secondly, the bill reforms private security and its mode of operation. It regulates the conditions for obtaining a private security license by imposing language restrictions and requiring a residency permit of at least 5 years in an effort to control the growing market of private security companies. As part of the new regulations, the government reserves its right to issue orders to private security companies. According to the bill, these reforms are meant to expand surveillance capabilities and personnel in light of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris and the threat of terrorism. In an effort to further expand the “security continuum”, the bill enables National Police officers to top up their retirement with salaries earned from private security.
Thirdly, and most controversially, the “global security” bill regulates the recording and dissemination of images in the context of police action. Specifically, Article 21 authorizes the National Police and the National Gendarmerie to use cameras to film their actions in real time in order to “inform the public about the circumstances of the intervention”. Article 22 defines and allows for the use of drones by law enforcement agencies to monitor public spaces, which is currently practiced (and was practiced although criticized during the first French lockdown in March 2020) despite the lack of a clear framework. Finally, Article 24 amends the law of 29 July 1881 on the freedom of the press by introducing a one-year prison sentence and a fine of EUR 45,000 for the dissemination of “the image of the face or any other element of identification of an official of the National Police or of a soldier of the National Gendarmerie when acting within the framework of ‘a police operation’ and when this dissemination is made ‘with the aim of harming their physical or mental integrity’”. Only after massive public protest by journalists, activists, and NGOs – and instances in which the “global security” law would be applied – did the National Assembly amend this article to include a prerogative that the fundamental “right to inform”, as it is practiced by journalists, should not be infringed upon.
When the current version of the “global security” bill was introduced in the National Assembly on 20 October 2020, it had been amended by the French government, namely by Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin, to include Article 24 – the protection of law enforcement. However, it formally retained the status of a proposed bill and thus was not reviewed by the Council of State, which significantly reduced the level of constitutional and legal scrutiny of the bill. Additionally, the government also used its powers to fast-track the bill. These actions were criticized by National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, CNCDH), which called it a “degradation of the democratic debate” in its report. Additionally, the procedure drew criticism from Claire Hédon, who holds the office of the defender of rights (Défenseur des droits). She pointed out that the provisions regarding the access to surveillance footage and dissemination of imagery “are likely to infringe on the right to privacy”. Similarly, the CNCDH said it was “opposed to the widespread use of airborne cameras (drones), which opens up unprecedented surveillance prospects, particularly threatening to the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms”.
The “Separatisms” Bill
In an effort to explicitly bolster the “respect of the principles of the French Republic”, a governmental bill was proposed by Prime Minister Jean Castex, Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin, and Minister Delegate for Citizenship Marlène Schiappa. As a governmental bill, the proposal had to undergo review by the Council of State and was approved by the Council of Ministers before it was introduced to parliament on 9 December 2020 in a fast-tracked procedure. The bill is commonly called the “separatisms” bill (loi contre les séparatismes) and is meant to address “Islamist separatism” in France; it is currently being discussed by a special commission in the National Assembly before it is voted on and sent to the Senate.
In detail, the bill aims at banning homeschooling by mandating that children between the ages of 3 to 16 physically go to school, except for medical reasons. Furthermore, the bill creates a new criminal offense for hate speech, making the dissemination of private information with malicious intent an offence punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of up to EUR 45,000. The sentence is to be tougher if the offense is committed “to the detriment of a person holding public authority or entrusted with a public service mission”.
Moreover, the bill expands governmental oversight vis-à-vis religious practices. In an effort to regulate foreign influence on places of worship, religious groups will have to declare any donations from abroad. Local authorities will also be able to shut down any place of worship in order to “prevent and combat acts that could seriously disturb public order by provoking hatred or violence against a person or group of persons”. The bill further aims to strengthen the framework to forbid the issuance of “virginity certificates” as well as the practicing of forced marriages and polygamy, for example through the revocation of residence permits.
Additionally, secularism (laïcité) is to be reinforced by extending the so-called neutrality principle (principe de neutralité) to “ensure respect for the principles of secularism and neutrality of public service”. In praxis, this means that, in addition to civil servants, all private contractors of public services are now prohibited from wearing religious symbols and voicing political views.
While the “separatisms” bill had to pass the Council of State, the measure was also fast-tracked and received severe criticism for targeting Muslims living in France. In an attempt by the government to avoid disapproval, the bill itself is not explicit: the words “Islamism” or “separatism” are nowhere to be found. However, the motivation of the government is clear: as outlined in the preamble, it targets “an insidious but powerful communitarian infiltration [that] is slowly destroying the foundations of our society in some areas. This infiltration is for the most part of Islamist inspiration”. Since the law already governs most of the criminal offenses listed in the bill, such as acts of terrorism, interpersonal violence, and incitement to hatred, the “separatisms” bill is an attempt by the government to amalgamate the general state of insecurity with the perceived threat of Islam, thus singling out Muslims as the enemies of the French Republic. Ultimately, the bill is a continuation of a history of stigmatization of a significant part of the French people with the purpose of redefining the ideological values of the French Republic against the (Muslim) other – a dynamic similar to colonial and orientalist tropes employed throughout French history.
Securitization to Contain “Anti-Republicanism”?
Thus, the two bills are exemplary for the ways in which the French state is using its powers to control and police its population and reproduce colonial dynamics – amidst widespread social upheaval in the face of growing inequalities, countless instances of police violence, and growing hostility towards state institutions.
The “global security” bill is focused on expanding the surveillance and security apparatus as well as protecting the state’s police forces while infringing on the right to privacy, freedom of expression, press freedom, and the right to assembly of its people. The bill reflects and reinforces the monopoly of legitimate use of violence and the asymmetry of power relations that exists between the French state and its population. The “separatisms” bill is meant to bolster the so-called principles of the French Republic by identifying “political Islam” as the scapegoat for the shortcomings of the French government in addressing the country’s colonial legacies and governing its racialized population in a just way.
 For further reading about the link between colonialism and contemporary policing, I recommend, La domination policière by Mathieu Rigouste and Maintenir l’ordre colonial, by Jean-Pierre Bat and Nicolas Courtin.
Erstellt von: Yasmine Najm