The push by France’s Socialist government to revoke the citizenship of convicted terrorists with dual nationality after the Paris attacks has turned into a harsh political dispute, with the far right applauding the move while some on the left express indignation at what they call a divisive measure.
French President Francois Hollande submitted the proposal three days after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, in a shift toward a hard line on security. The idea appears to have strong support in French public opinion. Several polls over the past week suggest that 80 to 90 percent of the French are in favor of the measure.
Under current French law, citizenship revocation can only be applied to people who have been naturalized, not if they are French-born, and the procedure is rarely implemented.
The new rules would extend it to all dual nationals, but cannot be applied to people who are only French citizens, as France’s obligations under international law prevent it from leaving a person stateless.
Opponents of the measure consider it would create two classes of citizens – dual nationals who could lose their citizenship and others who cannot – in opposition to the principle of equality set out in France’s constitution.
French authorities have not said how many of those arrested over the Paris attacks are dual nationals.
Prominent Socialist Party figures, including former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, have publicly expressed their disapproval, but Hollande has stuck to his guns.
“France must take the good decisions beyond traditional party divisions,” the president said in his New Year’s Eve speech.
While the left is divided, Hollande is getting unusual support from the right. The far-right National Front has claimed it is at the origin of the idea. “Terrorists don’t deserve French citizenship, because French citizenship is an honor”, vice president of the party Florian Philippot told France Info radio.
Members of the conservative opposition, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, have also largely supported the proposal – while also calling for more security measures.
The government says the new measure would apply to a very small number of people.
The issue remains highly sensitive in France as some have compared it to the revocation of citizenship of Jews and members of the French Resistance during World War II, when the government led by Philippe Petain collaborated with German authorities. The Vichy regime revoked the citizenship of more than 15,000 naturalized and 500 French-born people – including General Charles de Gaulle.
“It’s dangerous because you start wanting to revoke the citizenship of some people, then take a step further,” said Socialist senator Samia Ghali.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the action this week. “This is a strong symbolic act that punishes those who excluded themselves from the national community. Nothing less, nothing more,” he said in a written statement.
France first adopted the revocation of citizenship in 1848 for those who refused to accept the abolition of slavery, Valls recalled.
The constitutional change, to be debated in Parliament in February, requires a three-fifths majority vote from lawmakers.
About 50 human rights and anti-racist organizations and unions have launched a petition to reject the measure.
Some human rights defenders consider the proposal implicitly targets France’s Muslim community, the largest in Western Europe – including many French-born with Moroccan, Tunisian or Algerian origins who have both citizenships.
The Paris attacks, which left 130 dead and hundreds wounded, were carried out in the name of the Islamic State group largely by French and Belgian extremists. Some of them were of Moroccan descent.
The possibility of revoking the citizenship of all dual nationals – not only the naturalized ones – already exists in Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.
In the U.S., a person can have his naturalization revoked for being a member of the Communist party, another totalitarian party or a terrorist organization within five years of his or her naturalization. The measure does not apply to natural-born U.S. citizens.