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Stopping the decline of civil liberties in France

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Recently, French officials announced their decision to rewrite sections of the country’s global security law. The move was announced by parliamentary leaders from the ruling majority dominated by President Emmanuel Macron's La République en Marche (LREM) party, writes Josef Sjöberg.

The controversial sections of the bill known as Article 24 would make it an offense to film and identify police officers carrying out their duties. As per the amendment’s language, the new version of the law would make it an offense to show the face or identity of any officer on duty "with the aim of damaging their physical or psychological integrity". Other sections like Articles 21 and 22 of the proposed law delineate “mass surveillance" protocols. 

The proposed changes have been the subject of immense criticism both at home and abroad since they were first filed on 20 October. Critics point to the unprecedented expansion of government surveillance over its citizens and the risk of police and security forces operating with impunity.

What is ironic about the proposal is that it threatens to undermine the very thing it allegedly seeks to protect. The impetus for this law was the tragic killing of French teacher Samuel Paty on 16 October by a young Muslim man in retaliation for Paty showing his class a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. The incident prompted President Emmanuel Macron’s commitment to defend freedom of expression and civil liberties. In the name of upholding these values, however, Macron’s government along with members of his party have introduced new legislation that effectively restricts them. 

Concerns over the security law are not merely theoretical. A significant uptick in police violence in France has shown what trends are possible. One incident that has spread like wildfire across the news platforms was the brutal beating of a man, one Michel Zecler, by four police officers in Paris. While the Interior Minister promptly ordered the suspension of the officers involved, the incident sparked nationwide outrage further fueling the flames of animosity toward the police.

The attack on Zecler came just days after a major police operation took place to dismantle a migrant camp in the country’s capital. Video footage of the incident showed police using aggressive force as well as tear gas to disperse the illegal encampment. Two separate probes related to the camp dismantling have since been launched by officials. One of the flashpoints of police violence has in fact been opposition to the security bill itself. In the final days of November, activists organized marches all over the country to protest the proposed amendments. At least eighty-one individuals were arrested by police and several injuries at the hands of officers were also reported. At least one of the victims was Syrian freelance photographer, Ameer Al Halbi, 24, who was injured in his face while covering the demonstration.

The attack on Al Halbi and others seemed to confirm fears of the security bill’s opponents as a primary concern has been the ability to maintain press freedom under the new statutes. Indeed, the trend of police violence has, in the eyes of many citizens, been gaining momentum for the better part of 2020. The wide spectrum opposition to the security law is spurred by the recent memory of the Cedric Chouviat incident in January. Chouviat, 42 at the time of his death, was confronted by police near the Eiffel Tower while on a delivery job. Alleging that Chouviat was talking on his phone while driving, officers eventually detained him and applied a chokehold to subdue him. Despite Chouviat’s repeated cries that he could not breathe, officers kept him pinned down. Chouviat died shortly afterward.

Observers have noted that the introduction of the bill has been yet another regrettable move toward the erosion of France's “soft power” policy. Back in 2017, France was found to be the global leader in welding influence through appeal rather than aggression. This improvement has been largely attributed to the moderate leadership of the centrist Macron. It was hoped this alternate approach to power would also be applied by the French president in domestic policy. Unfortunately, for years the distrust of the citizenry toward police forces has only been growing, as the use of violence by officers has become increasingly common in the French Republic.          

With the incredible public backlash against proposed amendments, it is clear that the additions to the security bill are a step in the wrong direction. A democratic and free nation like France, cannot, and must not adopt policies that explicitly limit the accountability of its security forces, invade personal privacy, and restrict journalistic activity. Macron and his team must reconsider the bill and amend the proposals. Only then can France’s leadership begin to address the problem of police brutality for what it is and ensure the continuity and flourishing of French civil liberties.

Cyprus

France calls Turkish-Cypriot move on ghost town a 'provocation'

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French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France, June 25, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

France on Wednesday (21 July) criticized as a "provocation" a move by Turkish Cypriot authorities to partially reopen an abandoned town in Cyprus for potential resettlement, in the latest critique from the West that Ankara has dismissed, write Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris and Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul, Reuters.

Turkish Cypriots said on Tuesday (20 July) that part of Varosha would come under civilian control and people would be able to reclaim properties - angering Greek Cypriots who accused their Turkish rivals of orchestrating a land-grab by stealth. Read more.

Varosha, an eerie collection of derelict high-rise hotels and residences in a military zone nobody has been allowed to enter, has been deserted since a 1974 war split the island.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (pictured) discussed the matter with his Cypriot counterpart on Tuesday and will raise the topic at the United Nations, a spokesperson for Le Drian's ministry said.

Cyprus is represented in the European Union by an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government. France presides over the U.N. Security Council this month.

"France strongly regrets this unilateral move, upon which there had been no consultations, which constitutes a provocation and harms re-establishing the confidence needed to get back to urgent talks over reaching a fair and long-lasting solution to the Cypriot question," Le Drian's spokesperson said.

The EU, the United States, Britain and Greece also objected to the plan unveiled when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan visited Nicosia on Tuesday. He called it a "new era" for Varosha, on the island's eastern coast.

Turkey's foreign ministry said the EU's critique was "null and void" since it is disconnected from realities on the ground and favours Greece, an EU member. "It is not possible for the EU to play any positive role in reaching a settlement to the Cyprus issue," it said.

Peace efforts have repeatedly floundered on the ethnically split island. A new Turkish Cypriot leadership, backed by Turkey, says a peace accord between two sovereign states is the only viable option.

Greek Cypriots reject a two-state deal for the island that would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises.

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France

European Commission appoints two new Heads of Representation in Paris and Luxembourg

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The Commission has appointed two new Heads of Representation in Paris and Luxembourg. Valérie Drezet-Humez will start in her new function in Paris on 01 September 2021. Anne Calteux will take up her duties as Head of Representation in Luxembourg, at a date still to be decided. They will act as the official Representatives of the Commission in the member states under the political authority of President Ursula von der Leyen.

Drezet-Humez, a French national, with 25 years of experience in the Commission, will draw on her strong policy background, her strategic communication and managerial skills and legal expertise in EU matters. Since 2010, she has been working in the Secretariat-General, as head of unit responsible for briefings for the president and vice presidents touching upon all policy priorities and political developments. Prior to that, she headed the team in charge of written, empowerment and delegations procedures in the Secretariat-General where she acquired a deep understanding of the functioning of the Commission while supporting critical adoption to enable Commission decision-making.

She started in the Secretariat-General as policy assistant to the deputy Secretary-General and then to the Secretary–General, after leaving the Directorate General for Translation where she was policy assistant to the director general, posts where she was exposed to the political and delivery dimension of files. She joined the European Commission in 1995, in the Directorate-General for Environment, where she worked in the industry and environment domain, and in policy coordination, a domain which is key to the current political agenda. Drezet-Humez is a lawyer who graduated from the University of Lyon III where she specialised in EU Law.

Anne Calteux, a Luxembourg national, brings a long experience in the Luxembourg and European diplomacy to her new assignment, which will allow her to effectively manage key political communication and strategic coordination. Since 2016, Ms Calteux has held a number of leading positions where she exercised a high level of responsibility and crisis management, most notably the last one as a responsible to co-ordinate the COVID-19 Crisis Cell in the ministry of health in Luxembourg. As a head of EU and international affairs and a senior advisor to the minister in the ministry of health in Luxembourg since 2016, she has gathered ample knowledge of EU affairs and policies.

Between 2016 and 2018, Calteux headed the Communications Unit at the Ministry which proves her sound communication and analytical skills and ability for overall strategic orientation and management of the Commission's Representation in Luxembourg. Between 2004 and 2013, she worked in the Permanent Representation of Luxembourg to the European Union, as a counsellor in charge of public health, pharmaceuticals and social security. Calteux holds a Master of laws, from LLM, King's College in London, where she has specialised in Comparative European law.

Background

The Commission maintains Representations in all capitals of EU Member States, and Regional Offices in Barcelona, Bonn, Marseille, Milan, Munich and Wroclaw. The Representations are the Commission's eyes, ears and voice on the ground in EU Member States. They interact with national authorities, stakeholders and citizens, and inform the media and the public about EU policies. Heads of Representations are appointed by the President of the European Commission and are her political representatives in the Member State to which they are posted.

For More Information

European Commission's Representation in Paris

European Commission's Representation in Luxembour

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coronavirus

'Ridiculous', travellers dismayed by UK quarantine measures for France

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Travellers about to board a train from Paris to London on the day quarantine rules in Britain were due to lapse were upset on Monday (19 July) by a last-minute decision to keep them, calling it "ridiculous," "cruel" and "incoherent", write Emilie Delwarde, Sudip Kar-Gupta, John Irish and Ingrid Melander, Reuters.

Anyone arriving from France will have to quarantine at home or in other accommodation for five to 10 days, the government said on Friday (16 July), even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Read more.

The fact that England scrapped most coronavirus restrictions on Monday made it even more bitter for those about to check in on the Eurostar at Paris' Gare du Nord station. Read more.

"It's incoherent and ... frustrating," said Vivien Saulais, a 30-year-old Frenchman on his way back to Britain, where he lives, after visiting his family.

"I am forced to do a 10-day quarantine while the British government lifts all the restrictions and is going for a policy of herd immunity."

Passengers wait on socially distanced chairs at Heathrow Airport amid the coronavirus disease (COVID19) pandemic in London, Britain July 7, 2021.    REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
Passengers wait on socially distanced chairs at Heathrow Airport amid the coronavirus disease (COVID19) pandemic in London, Britain July 7, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

Britain is reporting many more COVID-19 cases than France due to the spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India, but has few cases of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa. The government said it was keeping quarantine rules for travellers from France because of the presence of the Beta variant there.

Britain has the seventh highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, 128,708, and is forecast to soon have more new infections each day than it did at the height of a second wave of the virus earlier this year. On Sunday there were 48,161 new cases.

But, outstripping European peers, 87% of Britain's adult population has had one vaccination dose and more than 68% have had two doses. Deaths, at around 40 per day, are a fraction of a peak of above 1,800 in January.

"It's totally ridiculous because the Beta variant in France is so low," said Francis Beart, a 70-year-old Briton who had travelled to France to see his partner but had cut short his visit to allow time for quarantine. "It's a bit cruel."

French authorities have said the bulk of cases of the Beta variant come from the overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte, rather than mainland France, where it is not widespread.

"We don't think the United Kingdom's decisions are totally based on scientific foundations. We find them excessive," France's junior European affairs minister Clement Beaune told BFM TV.

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