French president drops plan to strip citizenship from convicted terrorists

Lawmakers failed to agree on language that would have singled out French terrorists with dual citizenship from those with only French citizenship. 

Stephane de Sakutin/Reuters
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech on constitutional reform and the fight against terrorism at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France.

A controversial French proposal to revoke the citizenship of convicted terrorists has been scrapped.

French President François Hollande announced that he is abandoning the plan, which would involve amending the constitution, amid harsh criticism from human rights groups and members of his own political party.

The proposed measure, announced three days after last November's terror attacks in Paris, has stirred heated debate in France. Initially it drew popular support and was backed by both major parties as lawmakers rallied behind the president’s pledge to destroy the Islamic State. In a speech to the nation, the president presented the citizenship revision as part of a permanent expansion of emergency powers, which he has now also abandoned. 

“I take note that part of the opposition is against all constitutional revision,” Mr. Hollande said Wednesday, reported The New York Times. “I deplore, profoundly, this attitude, because we must do all we can under the current serious conditions to avoid division.”

"A compromise appears out of reach,” he added.

The president’s proposal reached a deadlock, after opposing camps failed to agree on how to separate French nationals with dual citizenship from those with single citizenship. The National Assembly passed the measure to strip citizenship from convicted terrorists by a vote of 317 to 199, but removed a reference to dual nationality to ease criticism from groups who said the amendment would create a two-tier nation, The New York Times reported.

The upper house restored the original language of the measure, citing a 1961 United Nations treaty obligation that prevents states from stripping natural-born citizens of their citizenship. Both houses of parliament must approve any changes to the constitution. 

Critics said the proposed change would further infringe on the civil liberties of the French people, contradicting the values of "liberté, égalité, and fraternité." They said the measure was reminiscent of the repression of France's World War II-era Vichy regime. Since November, French police – using the state of emergency that is still in place – have raided more than 300 homes, the Monitor reported.

Opponents had argued the proposal offered no guarantee that a terrorist would be stopped. Europe’s open borders allows EU citizens to travel freely, which means that stripping the rights of convicted French terrorists wouldn't stop other perpetrators plotting to strike in France. 

“While citizenship in an EU state may have helped some of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks get into Europe, several were Belgian, and two entered Europe without citizenship in any European nation, writes Heather Horn, a contributing writer for The Atlantic. “Only one of the nine attackers would have been affected by the new bill.”

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