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Explained: What are 'French values'?

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
Explained: What are 'French values'?
Marianne, the national emblem of France, and the French above the country's parliament. Photo by Joël SAGET / AFP

Part of France's new immigration law is a requirement for foreigners living in France to sign a contract saying that they respect 'French values' - but what actually are these values?


France's new immigration law, passed in January after a tumultuous political journey, includes several big changes for foreigners living in France or those hoping to move here, including French language tests.

Also included in the text is a Contrat d'engagement au respect des principes de la République (contract of engagement to respect the principles of the French republic). This is a new requirement that everyone applying for a French residency card or visa - including people renewing residency cards - will have to sign this contract agreeing to ‘respect the principles of the French republic’.

You can read full details of how this will work in practice and which groups are affected HERE.


Because this requirement has not yet come into force we don’t know the exact wording of the contract that people will be asked to sign.

Listen to the team from The Local discussing French values in the latest episode of the Talking France podcast. Download here or listen on the link below


But there is a similar requirement already for certain groups of people applying for residency, while people applying for French citizenship are also asked to demonstrate that they understand and adhere to the values of France.

So what are the values of France?

Article 1 of the French Constitution defines the French republic as "indivisible, secular, democratic and social" and adds that these values constitute the 4 pillars of the republic. 

The website of the president's Elysée Palace defines the 4 values like this:

Indivisible - that no individual or group is exempt from the laws of the republic or is allowed to exercise sovereignty over the rest of the population.

They add that the principle of unity guarantees that laws, rights and duties are the same throughout mainland France and the overseas territories (although in fact there are several small differences to laws between France and some of its overseas territories).

The Elysée adds that being ‘indivisible’ is why France only has one officially recognised language - French. Although regional languages such as Breton and Occitan have legal recognition, they are not official languages of France.

Secular - French laws on laïcité - which first came into force in 1905 - state that all residents of France are entitled to their religious beliefs, but that religion plays no part in the state itself.

It is this principle that explains why, for example, Christmas cribs are not allowed in town halls while state employees are banned from wearing religious symbols, like the kippah or the hijab headscarf.

READ ALSO What does laïcité really mean in France? 

Although the basic principle of laïcité is a straightforward one, the details remain contentious and even many French people either don't understand them or pretend not to understand them for political reasons.

Meanwhile topics that relate in some way to laïcité - such as the wearing of the full-body burkini swimsuit often favoured by Muslim women in public swimming pools - tend to be hot-button issues

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The Elysée adds: "Secularism is one of our most precious values, the keystone of a harmonious society, the cement of a united France." 

Democratic - The idea of a democratic political system is hardly unique in Europe, but the French definition includes the line "The democratic nature of the Republic implies respect for fundamental freedoms".

These are often defined as supporting concepts such as freedom of expression, freedom of religious belief and freedom to love (for example, through same-sex marriage).

"Regardless of their personal history, level of education, wealth or gender, all citizens have the same value in the eyes of the State," says the Elysée. A nice idea that we can all get behind, but it's not too hard to find examples of where that isn't actually true in daily life in France.

Social - this sounds like a bit of a vague term, but the Elysée insists “the social character of the Republic stems from its commitment to equality”.


So you would be expected to adhere to values such as equality between men and women, social cohesion and equality of opportunity in order to demonstrate your commitment to the principles of the republic.

"To ensure that this equality of rights is full and complete, alive and concrete, the State also works to ensure equality of opportunity by providing special support for disadvantaged or vulnerable citizens, and by encouraging social cohesion in the fields of education, housing, employment and health," the Elysée adds.

Again, this is perhaps more of a goal than a daily reality, but support for disadvantaged or vulnerable people - for example through sickness benefits or state-funded healthcare - can therefore be seen as a 'French value'.

How do you demonstrate these?

The new Republican integration contract will be a form of words that applicants must sign when completing an application for a residency permit - not too dissimilar to accepting the terms and conditions when making an online purchase.


If you want to become French the requirement is a little tougher and you will need to demonstrate that you both understand and adhere to those values.

Unlike some countries France doesn’t have a written citizenship test, instead it’s an in-person interview where you have to demonstrate; your knowledge of France and its culture; your understanding of French values; your agreement and adherence to those values and principles.

People who have been through the citizenship interview often report seemingly strange or random questions such as 'Do you and your husband share household chores equally' or 'Would you accept having a male gynaecologist' - although these questions can seem bizarre, they make more sense once you understand the values they are trying to test.

READ ALSO What might you be asked in the French citizenship interview

Because laïcité is both a particularly French concept and one widely misunderstood by foreigners, it almost always comes up during citizenship interviews.

It's important to point out that adhering to these values do not mean that you can't criticise the government, its policies or even go on a protest about a particular issue - after all, what is more French than protesting?

But if you want to gain French citizenship, you will need to demonstrate that you agree with the 'four pillars' as outlined above. 


Comments (1)

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David Whitehead 2024/05/23 00:22
Thank you for this explanation which directly answers my query regarding French values.
  • Emma Pearson 2024/05/23 11:47
    You're welcome!

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