The proposed French "separatism" bill («Projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») could threaten rights and civil liberties, according to French and European civil society organisations including CIVICUS, the European Civic Forum (ECF), Le Mouvement Associatif (LMA) and la Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH). French civil society organisations and trade unions have scheduled public demonstrations against the bill on 12 June 2021.
In a letter to the European Commission, the organisations express major concerns about the new bill, highlighting sections of the proposed law relating to civil liberties and the right to associate.
If passed, the bill would include provisions able to violate the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and undermine the freedoms of association and expression. French representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim communities have warned against the adverse impacts the law will have on their activities inside society.
A much concerning provision is a so-called "Contract of Republican Engagement'' which will give administrative authorities the power to assess an organisation's compliance with "the principles of the French Republic". Organisations considered non-compliant would lose subsidies and public funding. However, the definition of "republican engagement" is legally vague, and organisations could only appeal to the judiciary after they have lost funding. There are concerns that this provision will give public authorities undue influence over the civil society sector.
The new “Contract” would bypass the 2014’s Charter of mutual recognition, a consensual agreement between the State and civil society sector, giving public institutions increased authority and surveillance over the sector.
“If the law is passed in its current form, it will set a dangerous example in Europe and legitimise a worrying narrative creeping across the region, denying civic organisations the freedom to stand up against state decisions and policies or to access funding,” said Alexandrina Najmowicz, Secretary General, European Civic Forum.
The right of associations to access funding is a key pillar of the right to association and restrictions to foreign funding were found not in line with European law by the European Court of Justice in the case of the 2017 Lex NGO in Hungary.
“Civil society is a key pillar of French democracy and an important watchdog in ensuring the respect for the rule of law. We are alarmed by the fact that the law is dramatically increasing the control of public authorities and institutions on the right to associate, departing from the hundred-and-twenty-years-old liberal framework that made the French civil society sector one of the strongest and most vibrant in Europe and the world” said the letter, sent by French and European NGOs to European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.
“There have been several concerning developments around civic freedoms in France: the Anti-Separatism Bill follows the recently passed Global Security Bill, posing major threats to fundamental rights”, said Aarti Narsee, Europe Civic Space Research Lead, CIVICUS.
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Civic space in France is rated Narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor
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