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Mosque closures: What powers does the French government have?

According to the Interior Ministry, a total 21 operational places of worship are currently closed in France while a further six are currently under investigation. We look at the powers the French government has to close down religious institutions.

The outside of Al Madina al Mounawara mosque in Cannes, which has been closed down on the orders of the French Interior Minister
Al Madina al Mounawara mosque in Cannes. Photo: Valery Hache / AFP

On Wednesday, a mosque in Cannes was closed on the orders of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin because, he said, of anti-Semitic remarks made there and because it was also guilty of supporting CCIF and BarakaCity, two associations that the government dissolved at the end of last year for spreading “Islamist” propaganda.

READ ALSO French minster orders closure of Cannes mosque over anti-Semitic remarks

The closure in Cannes comes two weeks after authorities provisionally closed a mosque in the northern area of Oise because of what they said was the radical nature of its imam’s preaching, the latest in a string of closures.

Can the government close places of worship?

France is a secular state and the government has no religion. Public officials are barred from even wearing clothing or jewellery that indicates their faith – a long-standing policy that has caused no small amount of friction from time to time. 

But it does have the power to close churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship in certain circumstances.

As with any building, the government can step in if a place of worship is structurally unsound and dangerous, while religious organisations are obliged to follow rules around employment, health and safety and – if serving food or drink to the public – hygiene.

Likewise, religious groups enjoy no special treatment when it comes to criminal investigation – a Catholic archbishop who said that priests should not inform police about sexual abuse if they hear it in confession was recently summoned for a meeting with Darmanin and reminded that “Nothing is above the laws of the Republic”.

Mosques

The mosque closures, however, are being done under a more recent law.

The loi SILT (Sécurité Intérieure et Lutte contre le Terrorisme), brought in to combat fundamentalist Islamism, came into force in 2017 and allows the government to close places of worship for up to six months. 

The law states that “for the sole purpose of preventing the commission of acts of terrorism, the representative of the State in the department, or in Paris the Police Préfet, may pronounce the closure of places of worship in which the remarks that are held, the ideas or theories that are disseminated or the activities that take place provoke violence, hatred or discrimination, provoke the commission of acts of terrorism or glorify such acts.” 

France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

The duration of the closure “must be proportionate to the circumstances that motivated it and may not exceed six months.”

The State must give its approval before the place of worship can reopen. Closures, though individually limited to six months, can be renewed.

For this, a new religious association must take over the management of the place. Control measures can also be put in place, such as the installation of surveillance cameras to film services and preaching.

If necessary religious leaders at the venue may be expelled. 

How often is this power used?

Its use seems to be increasing. 

In December 2020, Darmanin placed 76 mosques under investigation as part of what he described at the time as a “massive and unprecedented action against separatism”.

There have also been separate actions, such as the closure of the mosque in Pantin, north of Paris, after mosque officials shared videos relating to the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty. The mosque has since reopened with a new leadership team.

The Macron government has passed a sweeping bill aimed at preventing ‘separatism’. Developed in consultation with Muslim leaders in France it contains a raft of measures including wider provision for local funding of places of worship and a charter of ‘republican values’ for all groups which receive public subsidies.

ANALYSIS What is in Macron’s ‘anti-separatism’ law?

Going alongside the bill, Darmanin’s actions are aimed at mosques where radical preaching has been reported.

How do locals react to the closures?

In the case of the mosque in Cannes, which is to remain closed for at least two months, so far there has been silence.

The rector of the mosque, Mustapha Dali , has not yet reacted to this closure. But, Following the terror attack in Nice in July 2016, he condemned “barbaric fanaticism” in a publication on social networks. 

Cannes town hall said in a press release: “This decision comes after careful research work by the State services and multiple reports made directly by the municipality of Cannes since 2015.”

It went on: “We know that the vast majority of Muslims who frequent this very old mosque do not share its drift; some had also alerted us.

“It is therefore up to the emergence of new leaders respectful of the French Republic and the country so that the place of worship can then reopen”.

In the case of the Pantin mosque, several members of the community had reported becoming alarmed by the preaching, even before the video was shared.

It has since reopened without its former director and work is ongoing on a €1 million building project.

“It’s a good thing that the mosque can reopen. The director made an inexcusable mistake in sharing this video. But punishing all the worshippers was unfair,” said the Socialist local mayor Bertrand Kern.

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MONEY

Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website www.service-public.fr. This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.

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