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French court overturns mayor’s compulsory face masks order

A French court on Thursday told a suburban Paris mayor to suspend his order that town residents must wear masks outside to combat coronavirus, a lawyer said.

French court overturns mayor's compulsory face masks order
Face masks have proved a thorny subject in France. Photo: AFP

The court said the order by Mayor Philippe Laurent, mayor of Sceaux in the Hauts-de-Seine département on the outskirts of Paris, “was not justified by any local circumstances, and seriously violates fundamental freedom of movement”, said Patrice Spinosi of the League of Human Rights (LDH) group that had filed a complaint.

“Restricting rights and freedoms to ensure public health can only be ordered by a government,” Spinosi added.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said mayors should not be issuing unilateral orders to wear masks, adding it was a “thorny subject” and “not medically proven”.

READ ALSO Masks or no masks – what is the official advice in France?

Many workers in constant contact with the public are already wearing masks, like these boulangerie employees in Cannes. Photo: AFP

Laurent had ordered residents over the age of 10 to wear mask outside starting on Wednesday.

Mayors of several other towns have also said they are considering making masks compulsory in the coming days. 

The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has said that masks would be obligatory in the Mediterranean coastal city after France's nationwide lockdown ends.

Debate has raged in France over whether masks help slow the spread of the virus.

The government initially said that was not necessary for the general public – with shortages in hospitals where they were genuinely needed – but later shifted its position to say they could be useful.

The World Health Organisation's advice is still that only healthcare workers and those who already have the virus need to wear a mask.

Masks do not prevent people from getting the virus, but they can stop already infected people spreading it. As more evidence emerges of the number of asymptomatic patients, some authorities have moved to promoting masks as a way to stop the spread.

France's Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon said on Friday: “We encourage the general public, if they so wish, to wear (…) these alternative masks which are being produced.”

Compulsory masks is just one of a rash of new local regulations that have been introduced by local authorities and town mayors on top of the government's already strict lockdown measures.

Residents in some areas are banned from doing DIY during the day, spitting, renting a property for less than 14 days or jogging in the daytime.

READ ALSO DIY, spitting and daytime jogging – just some of the things French mayors have banned during lockdown

While local mayors in France do have quite a lot of power, it is not unlimited.

“There must be specific local circumstances and these mayors must be able to demonstrate that the measure is essential to maintain public order in the broadest sense, which includes the fight against epidemics,” Yvon Goutal, a lawyer specialising in local government law, told Le Parisien
 
“In case of doubt, the préfecture, an inhabitant or an interested party can refer the matter to an administrative court.”

Some local measures have have been withdrawn after protests include a ban on alcohol sales, a ban on sitting on a bench and a ban on going further than 10m from your home.

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POLITICS

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

Foreigners living in France could get the right to vote in certain elections if a newly-created bill passes through parliament.

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

The newly elected president of the National Assembly’s law commission calmly lobbed a 40-year-old electoral hand-grenade into the political discourse of the summer – and then went on holiday.

Sacha Houlié, MP for the Vienne and a member of Macron’s LREM party, filed a bill on Monday that would, if passed, allow non-EU citizens living in France to vote and stand for office in local elections. 

Under current electoral legislation, only French citizens can vote in presidential and parliamentary elections; EU citizens in France can vote in local and European elections; and non-EU citizens have no voting rights in France whatsoever. 

EU citizens can also stand for office in local elections, but are barred from becoming mayor or running for a seat in the Assembly.

Since Brexit, Britons in France have not been allowed to vote in local or  local office, any many Brits who were on their local councils had to resign because they were no longer EU citizens.

Many countries limit voting for their citizens who are out of the country, so non-EU citizens living in France often do not have the right to vote in any country.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and the far-right Rassemblement National wasted little time criticising Houlié’s bill.

Darminin’s entourage said that the minister was “firmly opposed” to the idea.

The far-right party went further. “We have crossed the limits of indecency and incomprehension of what the French are asking for,” Rassemblement national spokesperson Laurent Jacobelli told Franceinfo, echoing the sentiment of the party’s interim president Jordan Bardella, who insisted the passing of the bill would mark the, “final dispossession of the French from their country”.

Houlié said: “The right to vote for European Union nationals in local elections already exists in France. No one is surprised that a Spaniard or a Bulgarian can vote in municipal elections. But it has surprised many people that the British can no longer do it since Brexit.”

Given the current shape of the Parliament in France, it seems unlikely that the latest bill will pass. But it is far from the first time it has been on the table.

François Mitterrand had pledged during his presidential campaign in 1981 to ensure “the right to vote in municipal elections after five years of presence on French territory.”

But, in the face of opposition from the right, he backed down from this particular promise. 

In October 2004, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, tried to move forward with an electoral plan that would have allowed non-EU citizens certain voting rights – but was blocked by his own UMP party.

François Hollande re-launched the proposal during his 2012 campaign, before quietly letting it go in the face of opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.

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