Not French Enough? You Might Get Your Citizenship Revoked.
‘We need to revoke from his French nationality a person convicted of a violation of fundamental interests of the nation or a terrorist act, even if born French, I mean if born French, as long as he possesses another citizenship.’
With this statement before the Congress of Versailles right after the terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015 in Paris, French President François Hollande took his fight against terrorism to a new level, not without raising strong opposition and concern from human rights activists, Left and Right wing politicians, and legal scholars.
Revocation of French citizenship has been traditionally allowed in French law as a sanction against those considered to have ‘betrayed the trust of the Nation’, though it has only been used twice: in 1848 to punish French nationals engaged in the trading of slaves (the revocation was done on behalf of humanity) and in 1940 against French nationals who left France during World War II. Thus, by the adoption of a decree of 8 December 1940, the General Charles de Gaulle (resistant, leader of Free France during the second world war, and eighteenth President of France) was stripped of his French citizenship by the chief of state of Vichy France, the Maréchal Philippe Pétain for leaving the French territory to go to London in order to organize the resistance to free France and to fight Adolf Hitler.
Revocation of citizenship is one of the most extreme sanctions a state can take, and therefore must be strictly regulated. French civil code Article 25 allows such sanction for various reasons, including, in case of conviction ‘for an act constituting a crime or offense constituting a breach of fundamental interests of the nation or a crime or offense constituting an act of terrorism’. But the extension of revocation of French nationality to citizens who have been born into French citizenship and know no other citizenship is a direct challenge to generally accepted principles that govern rights of nationality and equality.
Under French law, revocation of citizenship is a particularly sensitive issue, especially considering France’s historical use of such legal tools during the Vichy regime of World War II, in cooperation with Nazi policies. After the terrorist attacks that hit Paris in 1996, this law was extended to citizens who accused of involvement in terrorist acts, but was deferred to the Constitutional Council for a judicial review (the French Constitutional Council is the highest constitutional authority). The Council recognized the constitutionality of the amendment, but strictly framed it under the principles of equality between French citizens, necessity and proportionality.(Constitutional Council, 16 July. 1996, No. 96–377 DC). In its 1996 and 2015 decisions (Constitutional Council, 23 January 2015, no 2014–439 QPC), the Constitutional Council recalled that ‘in relation to the law governing nationality, persons having acquired French nationality and persons who enjoy French nationality by birth are in the same situation’. This is an essential principle that reiterates that under French constitutional law, there is no second-class citizenship.
In the collective imagination, dual citizens are most commonly seen as second and third generation descendants of immigrants who came from the Maghreb region (especially after the decolonization of Algeria). While French by birth, many often automatically became dual citizens through the principles of jus soli (right of soil) and jus sanguinis (right of blood). These people are dual nationals for multiple reasons: sometimes symbolic that (honoring the roots of parents and grandparents, giving homage to ancestral homelands, celebrating multiculturalism, or sometimes simply to avoid red-tape while traveling). But under the pretext of abstract equality, the proposed legislation to revoke citizenship to dual-national creates real discrimination between native French, who have a citizenship that will remain protected from revocation, and French descendants of immigrants who could see their French identity questioned. These so-called egalitarian measures that can deprive a dual national from his/her French citizenship sends a disastrous message to the French of immigrant descent: they are not and will never be “native French” and their French citizenship is de facto legally and symbolically weakened.
In addition, it is necessary to question the practical consequences of such a measure. If the person was born in France and lived there, the person can hardly be expelled from France: indeed it would be considered to be a disproportionate violation of the right to respect for private and family life (which is protected by domestic, European and international law). Furthermore, the questions remain: which country would this person will be deported to? The country of their other citizenship? Most of the time, the person has no real connection with it, can barely speak the language, and is barely familiar with the customs. And the state in question has the right to refuse to receive the person or may treat the person in a way that is incompatible with human rights if imposed on them.
Thus, denying French citizens who have been found guilty of acts of terrorism all or part their rights (such as participating to public life or limiting their freedom of movement) is one thing, and is certainly an appropriate way to punish them. But depriving them of their French citizenship is another thing. And one might fear of the possible future abuses of such a punishment: indeed after acts of terrorism, what kind of other unbearable offense might be considered as a justification to strip a French dual national from his/her citizenship? One cannot forget France’s dark past when it comes to demonizing certain categories of people, and history is aware of the consequences of such actions. History has proven many times that targeting people on the ground of their differences has often ends with devastating results.
While symbolic, the extension of the revocation of French citizenship is a very strong measure that will exacerbate divisions within society. The French Socialist government should not offer on a silver plate that which the Far-Right wing Front National has been agitating for decades. Rather, government should consider strengthening the rights and freedoms of its people during times of crisis. Assuming that revocation of French citizenship will eradicate terrorism is delusional. It is a decoy that would prevent stakeholders, including the Government, communities at risk, and social workers, from joining forces to work on the causes of radicalization and terrorism, as well as on its prevention.
There is no such thing as multiple levels of French-ness. Creating different de facto categories of French citizenship will only lead to the disintegration of the diverse yet already fragile French society and the core values of liberty, equality and fraternity, which constitute the soul of the Republic.