Hollande’s plan to strip dual citizens of nationality proves controversial
Algiers - Horrific terrorist acts, like those of September 11th, 2001, have a way of sweeping away painstaking political thinking in favour of fear-driven measures.
French President François Hollande’s response to the November 13th Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people died, is no exception. On the night of the attacks, Hollande declared that France had sustained an “act of war” by a “terrorist army”, a notion unknown in international law.
Three days later, he declared: “France is at war.“ He called on French lawmakers to modify the constitution to grant the presidency “new exceptional powers” for the duration of this war. The new measures include emergency security powers, such as house arrests and the right to raid houses without judicial oversight.
Hollande also seeks to install video surveillance and to extend the length of storage and use of telephone data of crime suspects. A USA Patriotic Act à la française!
In addition, Hollande intends to ask lawmakers to deprive dual citizens convicted of terrorist crimes of their French passports. Until now, loss of nationality has been reserved for those who held dual citizenship through naturalisation.
Under current law, only dual citizens who acquired French citizenship less than ten years before their conviction of a crime can be stripped of French nationality. The bill does not apply to those who are born French. The government is seeking to extend this to stripping nationality from all dual national citizens convicted of terrorism, including those who were born French.
In the United States, a person can have naturalisation revoked within five years of his or her becoming a citizen for being a member of the communist party or a terrorist organisation. The measure does not apply to US-born citizens.
The French proposal introduces the idea of a different penalty for the same act just because of the random chance of their birth. France would become the first democracy to enshrine in its constitution the principle of unequal treatment of dual nationals.
Hollande’s project may be largely symbolic. It conveys however a racial issue reminiscent of dark moments in France’s history. The Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis in the 1940s, stripped thousands of Jews and foreigners of French citizenship during World War II. This regime revoked the citizenship of about 15,000 naturalised and 500 French-born people, including free French leader Charles de Gaulle.
Since the 1789 French revolution, the jus soli — the right of the soil — has been a fundamental principle. It awards to every person born in the country the right to citizenship.
The Hollande proposal was an idea first put forward by the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front (FN). Then, right-wing leader Nicolas Sarkozy raised the idea of removing the droit du sol from some violent criminals in 2011.
Both groups have made strong calls for “the expulsion of illegals” and “zero immigration”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed about 1 million immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa region. She was at ease in defending her open-door refugee policy after France joined the growing number of EU countries calling for immigration restrictions. Merkel insists that the refugee policy and fighting terrorism are separate issues.
The positions of French conservative groups have been criticised by the Socialist Party (PS). The PS took into account the Paris attacks to initiate the plan to launch an early campaign for presidential election. Hollande assumes that strong public opinion support for his proposal would provide electoral added-value. The socialist Hollande won the run-off race against Sarkozy in May 2012 essentially thanks to the votes of dual nationals.
According to experts, Hollande’s plan has little chance of deterring jihadists and other terrorist groups, who are often willing to give up their lives, not just their passports.
The government plan has turned into a harsh political dispute. Prominent Socialist Party figures, including former prime minister Jean- Marc Ayrault and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, have publicly expressed their disapproval. Critics say the plan could erode democratic liberties and play into the hands of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremist groups. About 50 human rights and anti-racist organisations, and unions are campaigning against the government plan.
Among them, the influential General Federation of Labour (CGT) and the National Union of Journalists have endorsed an appeal that says: “We will not give up against the constitutional project. We do not accept governance from fear, one that offers no assurances but certainly allows to violate our most basic principles.”
Some human rights defenders say the proposal implicitly targets France’s Muslim community, the largest in Western Europe — including many French-born with Moroccan, Tunisian or Algerian origins who have dual citizenship. There are estimated to be about 3.3 million French people with a second nationality living in France. Muslims living in France and elsewhere in the West are overwhelmingly hostile to Islamic fundamentalism and ISIS.
Economist Thomas Piketty, author of the bestselling Capital in the Twenty-First Century, argues “that the government has now added infamy to its economic incompetence”.