On Wednesday, the Assemblé Nationale voted 317 to 199 in favor of a constitutional amendment that would permit one of the most controversial pieces of French legislation in recent years — the so-called déchéance de la nationalité. In the aftermath of the Nov. 13 attacks across Paris, the law that would strip citizenship from French-born dual citizens accused of terrorism. Fifty deputies abstained.
Since the November attacks, perpetrated by Islamist militants, President François Hollande declared a state of emergency that lasts officially until Feb. 26, a period in which a host of new measures have increased the powers of the Interior Ministry to raid homes and to place citizens suspected of terrorist activity under house arrest. The state of emergency is likely to be renewed. Although there has been considerable criticism of the more than 3,000 police raids that have taken place since Nov. 13 — which have resulted in only around 360 arrests — the proposed citizenship law has undoubtedly caused the greatest outrage.
According to Le Monde, there are approximately 3.3 million people in France with dual citizenship, and critics — mostly from within the ranks of Hollande’s own party, the Parti Socialiste — insist that this law would make an entirely unnecessary distinction among French citizens, who are supposed to be equal in the eyes of the state. They also dispute whether it would be an effective means of fighting terrorism. After all, would removing the French citizenship of French-born terrorists keep them from pulling any triggers?
On a deeper level, these predominately leftist critics have argued, the déchéance de la nationalité would strike at the heart of French Republican values, devoted to the holy trinity of liberty, equality and fraternity. As Patrick Weil, a leading French historian of immigration, told the New York Times in January: “The principle of equality is one of the pillars of French identity. That [Hollande] wants to distinguish between French citizens is creating a tsunami.”
Christiane Taubira, Hollande’s justice minister, resigned over this proposed law on Jan. 27, and many other prominent socialists and leftists — including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélénchon — have condemned it outright. The so-called tsunami ultimately split the Parti Socialiste in Wednesday's vote: 168 voted in favor, while 119 either voted against or abstained. The same was essentially true of the center-right, despite a plea from Nicolas Sarkozy. In response to the vote, as well as to the government shake-up this morning that saw the former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault replace Laurent Fabius as France's Foreign Minister, Hollande is expected to appear on French television this evening to assuage public opinion.
The "déchéance" is not yet official, as it will still need to pass in the Senate, where it will be discussed in several weeks. It also must be approved by a three-fifths majority vote from lawmakers of both houses. But with this week's vote, it has come one step closer to becoming the law of the land.