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France scraps plan to strip jihadists of French nationality

France will not strip terrorists of their French passports and deport them after President François Hollande backed down on his attempt to make changes to the French constitution amid fierce opposition.

France scraps plan to strip jihadists of French nationality
Photo: AFP

Hollande finally caved in on Thursday after realizing he would not have enough support from within his own Socialist party to push through the constitutional reform.

While his plan to enshrine emergency powers in the constitution, like those brought in after the Paris terror attacks, received enough cross-party support, the move to strip convicted terrorists of the French passports was divisive.

“A compromise appears out of reach,” Hollande said after the two houses of parliament failed to agree on the reforms that the president tabled just days after 130 people were killed by terrorists, some of whom had dual French nationality.

“I also note that a section of the opposition is hostile to any constitutional revision. I deeply regret this attitude,” he said.

Hollande pledged that despite dropping the reform plans, he would not “deviate from the commitments I have taken… to ensure the security of our country.

“The threat remains higher than ever,” said Hollande.

“Islamist terrorism has declared war against us, against France, Europe, the entire world.”

Any reforms to France's constitution have to be given the backing by three fifths of all lawmakers – MPs and Senators – at a special Congress of Versailles that was due to be held next month. But with Wednesday's U-turn Hollande will no longer need to summon the Congress.

Without enough support Hollande faced the prospect of an embarrassing defeat which would have surely scuppered any remaining chances he had of being re-elected in 2017.

Hollande's announcement after a cabinet meeting brings to an end months of debate on a reform for which he was widely criticized by members of his own party, for whom he is far from popular. Former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned because she could not support the stripping of citizenships from convicted French jihadists.

However, opinion polls suggested the move did have wide support among the public.

Most critics said the measure would do little to prevent terror attacks, while others pointed out it would make matters worse by stigmatizing sections of the population – notably Muslims of North African descent – and may push them into hands of extremists.

Rights groups also criticized the plan to enshrine draconian powers under the state of emergency, but Hollande and his PM Manuel Valls argued it was an essential step to protect the nation at a time when France could face another jihadist attack.

Those on the right supported the move, which had long been backed by the far-right National Front. 

The leader of the far-right National Front (FN), Marine Le Pen, said Hollande's decision to scrap the constitutional reform was “a historical failure”.

“Francois Hollande fails to have his own words taken seriously. He and his government are the only ones responsible for this failure,” Le Pen said.

Hollande came close to dropping the plan to strip jihadists of the nationality once before, but was forced to push ahead with it when it emerged if he did then right-wing lawmakers would not back his second wish –  to enshrine emergency powers in the constitution.

The plan to enshrine emergency powers in the constitution, such as a ban on protests and the power to carry out house searches and impose house arrest orders without judicial oversight, was also widely criticized.

Amnesty International was particularly unimpressed with France's response to the January and November terror attacks in Paris, referring to the reaction as “liberticide” (killing off freedom).

That criticism was echoed by many other organizations and UN experts.

Many pointed out that France already had the necessary legal means to impose emergency powers so there was no need to change the constitution.

 

 

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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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