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NATIONALITY

Stripping French citizenship: What all the fuss is about

A measure to strip convicted terrorists of their nationality has sharply divided opinion in France, where it may become enshrined in the constitution. What issues are involved?

Stripping French citizenship: What all the fuss is about
Photo: AFP

A Dark history

During World War I, a law allowed people from enemy countries such as Germany, Austria and Hungary to be stripped of their French nationality.

During World War II, the practice affected some 15,000 people, including 7,000 Jews.

Also targeted were those who joined Charles De Gaulle's Free France movement, including the general himself.

The law today

Under current law, no one may be stripped of French nationality who would become stateless as a result.

The measure can be imposed on those who have acquired French citizenship and been convicted of treason or terrorism.

Only 13 people with terrorism convictions have lost their French citizenship since 1996.

The proposal to enshrine the measure in the constitution stipulates that it would be applied only to those dual nationals born in France, and not to naturalized French citizens.

Critics say the change should simply be made to the law without writing it into the constitution.

Either way, many fear that dual nationals will be targeted.

“These people will feel stigmatized, left aside from everyone else and considered different,” France's leading human right's lawyer Patrick Baudouin told The Local. 

Patrick Weil, a political scientist who met Hollande and advised him against the decision told AFP: “The constitution is a text that is written to unify the people and this does the opposite. People know that reinforcing the cohesion of the nation is, in the long term, the only way to defeat terrorism, and this proposal creates an immediate division in the country,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Why stripping jihadists' French nationality is wrong

Why stripping jihadists' French nationality is mad

What about statelessness?

As it stands, the proposal could theoretically make it possible to leave a person stateless.

France has pledged to ratify the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, but the treaty makes exceptions in certain cases, notably for a person who “has conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the
vital interests of the State”.



World variations

Some states such as Germany have no provision for stripping people of their nationality, while in others it can apply to all, and in still others it applies only to dual nationals.

Canada's liberal new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to repeal the provision imposed after a 2014 attack on parliament by a jihadist.

Croatia, Finland, Japan, Hungary, Portugal, Serbia and Sweden have no such law.

Treason is a basis for losing US nationality, while British citizenship can be withdrawn in cases of terrorist activity, espionage, organized crime and war crimes.

Bahrain and Kuwait regularly withdraw nationality in cases of terrorism and state security.

Dual nationals convicted on terror charges in Belgium face losing their Belgian citizenship, while Bulgaria, Denmark, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain have similar laws.

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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

Can driving offences prevent you getting French citizenship or residency?

One of the requirements for fulfilling criteria for French citizenship through naturalisation is a clean criminal record. Does this mean fines for traffic offences disqualify you?

Can driving offences prevent you getting French citizenship or residency?

It’s fairly common in France for all drivers, including foreign motorists perhaps not used to the rules or changing speed limits, to commit driving offences.

Whether being caught on a radar for driving too fast, not stopping at a stop sign – not always as obvious as it sounds,  or perhaps not giving way for someone arriving from the right – the driving offences can add up as the points on your license dwindle.

But could these driving offences thwart your bid to become French or even just gain residency?

The short answer is probably not.

Citizenship is not usually denied for relatively minor law-breaking, such as speeding fines. And that’s despite a case in July 2019 in which a nurse was initially refused citizenship on the grounds that she worked too hard and failed to “comply with the law” on working hours.

During the citizenship application process, as well as language and integration tests, you have to provide proof that you have no criminal record over the past 10 years – including, if necessary, evidence of a clean record from other counties in which you were resident.

Applicants must not have been convicted of a crime resulting in a jail term of more than 6 months, or have been convicted of a crime or offence that breaches or attacks the interests of the French state. Moreover, those who apply for citizenship through naturalisation – rather than by ascendancy or marriage – also need to demonstrate ‘good moral conduct’.

On the whole, that rules out most – but certainly not all – driving offences.

What if you already have citizenship

If you have acquired French nationality, it can be contested within two years if it is found that the legal conditions for obtaining it were not met, or were obtained fraudulently. 

Furthermore, nationality may be withdrawn if the holder’s conduct is contrary to the interests of France.

Finally, citizenship may be refused or revoked in the event of a particularly serious crime, such as:.

  • Conviction for acts against the fundamental interests of the nation, or conviction for serious offences such as  acts of terrorism;
  • Conviction for crimes considered to be crimes against the public administration (crimes committed by persons holding a public office);
  • Conviction for acts of insubordination in relation to performance of national service;
  • Engaging, for the benefit of a foreign state, in acts that are incompatible with the quality of French national and commission of acts that are prejudicial to the interests of France. No prior conviction is necessary.

Importantly, revocation of French nationality may be decided only if the following conditions are met:

  • You have acquired French nationality by naturalisation, ascendancy, or marriage. Anyone of French nationality by birth cannot lose it;
  • You have another nationality. It is not possible to make a person stateless.

France already can and does deport foreigners found guilty of serious crimes, while being convicted of a crime in France can also prevent you from being able to renew your visa or residency card.

If you are convicted of a crime and imprisoned in France, you can be served with an interdiction du territoire français – a ban from French territory. This is not automatic for all jailed foreigners, and is usually reserved for offences such as drug-trafficking, violent crime or terror offences.

What about residency rights?

Foreigners who have residency rights in France will periodically need to renew their visa or carte de séjour – and having a criminal conviction could mean that your renewal request is turned down. This is usually only the case if you have been convicted of a serious crime, but it’s not exclusively the most serious offences.

Between October 2020 and June 2021 8,031 carte de séjour renewals were refused on the grounds of criminality. Of these, 27 percent were for serious offences including assault, attempted murder, organised fraud and threatening a public official.

However, 5.9 percent were for driving offences – the official data does not specify the type of offence, but it seems safe to assume they were at the heavier end of the offence spectrum – 6.3 percent were following a domestic violence conviction, and 7 percent were for offences of begging or soliciting.

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