French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday will ask Parliament to extend state-of-emergency powers — in effect since Friday’s attacks in Paris but legally limited to 12 days thereafter — for three months. Such powers let the interior ministry order house arrest for people deemed dangerous to the public, and allow house searches without judicial approval.
“I’ve decided that Parliament on Wednesday will be presented a measure that extends the state of emergency for three months, adapting its content to evolving technologies and threat,” Hollande said.
But state-of-emergency powers are not enough, the president added.
“We are in a new era.” With that solemn introduction, Hollande urged Parliament, assembled in an extraordinary session at Versailles on Monday, to modify the constitution so it strengthens France’s capacity to defend itself from potential terror attacks at home — using protections he said are not currently provided by the state of emergency.
Hollande’s extraordinary request comes with the recognition that sections of the French constitution — notably “state of siege” powers, which would hand powers to the military if the state is threatened by a foreign army, and which were drawn in the wake of World War II — are outdated and need to be revised to respond to 21st-century challenges.
The proposed measures also pose an existential dilemma to a crucial part of French national identity: Government officials are effectively saying that the French must relinquish personal freedoms in exchange for a sense of security and the promise of future liberté — one of the French Republic’s revolutionary ideals.
Amendments to the constitution could broaden surveillance powers. Hollande has floated the idea of changing the charter to revoke French citizenship for anyone involved in terror attacks. Such changes could also allow citizens with dual nationality to be stripped of their French citizenship if convicted of a terror offense.
Hollande has also promised to deploy 5,000 additional police officers across the country within two years, and an additional 2,500 justice officials in the same time frame — all in an effort to monitor the estimated 10,500 people in France suspected of activities linked to what French officials have called “radical Islam.”
Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, has liberally employed state-of-emergency powers since Friday’s attacks, ordering house arrest for more than 100 people. He has also authorized 186 house searches, resulting in dozens of arrests and the seizure of 31 weapons, according to French media reports.
Cazenueve has reminded the public that before Friday’s emergency powers were enacted, French security had already been bolstered this year in the wake of the January attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket, assaults that killed 17 people and terrorized Paris for several days. Since Friday, 1,500 military personnel have joined the 10,000 military present in France since the January attacks.
Cazenueve has also considered granting the state the power to dissolve so-called “radical mosques.”
“The Council of Ministers will deliberate the dissolution of mosques where participants call for or proclaim hatred,” he said. “All this should be implemented in the strongest terms.”
France’s state-of-emergency powers were first enacted in 1955 at the start of its war with Algeria, which culminated in 1962 with Algerian independence. Since then, France has decreed a state of emergency twice: In 1985 in the Pacific island territory of New Caledonia amid massive unrest between separatists and French loyalists, and in 2005 in response to three weeks of rioting in Paris and hundreds of French towns.
Despite the security measures imposed after Friday’s attacks, Cazenueve has urged the public to “continue to live.” The attackers’ goal is to keep the French from living “like we have until now, with our model of civilization, our love of liberty, culture, and communal living,” he said.
State-of-emergency powers would also allow the interior ministry to prohibit the free movement of people or vehicles at any time. Police forces could order the closure of theaters and concert halls. Checkpoints could be set up outside public and private buildings suspected of harboring threats.
Additionally, more than 60 points of entry into France would continue to see enhanced border enforcement, in place since Friday. And some 3,000 security agents have been deployed throughout France to help monitor the country’s 3,000 train stations, according to SNCF, the company that operates France’s railway system.
The SNCF this week told the daily newspaper Parisien that in the coming days it will test software in its surveillance cameras that can detect “abnormal” behavior. “It is capable, by measuring the body’s temperature, of detecting an individual who is potentially dangerous,” Stephanie Volant, SNCF’s secretary-general, told Parisien.