During Emmanuel Macron’s campaign for the French presidency, he repeatedly promised voters that the state of national emergency—initially declared by his predecessor Francois Hollande in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris attacks—would not become a fixture of French political life. Now, after winning the election, Macron has kept his promise and formally removed the state-of-emergency status.
The fact that the status quo has been restored doesn’t mean things will be completely back to normal, however. Macron formally also signed a sweeping counterterrorism law to replace the state of emergency.
The new law gives law enforcement more authority and tools to fight violent extremism. In many respects, the terror law simply transfers authority the central government maintained during the state of emergency to “prefects,” local offices of the Ministry of Interior.
Powers that these prefects will now possess include the ability to shut down mosques, raid private property, conduct warrantless stop-and-frisk operations, and restrict movement of individuals deemed potential national security threats, and establish areas with extra security measures, such as in the vicinity of Christian related sites. Widespread electronic surveillance operations are also included in this list. All of these may be executed with little to no judicial oversight.
While many observers are decrying the new bill as codifying a state of emergency in France, and as an expression of France’s “colonialist” past, in truth the passing of this law is the latest indication of France beginning to get real with addressing its homegrown terror problem.
Homegrown extremist violence is different than other domestic security issues not just because of the frightening fifth column element, but because the social infrastructure that continues to perpetuate the problem is already firmly established.
France recognized this fact a while ago, and in the spring of 2016 took the deeply misguided step of opening a national rehabilitation program to assist those radicalized by extreme religious ideologies. This program shortly proved to be an absolute failure, and the program was shut down in July without having produced a single “graduate.” As silly as the de-radicalization program was, it at least showed that the French government was beginning to recognize the nature of the problem on its hands.
The frequency of Security incidents in France has become so high that many extremist motivated acts of violence have been going unreported for at least the past several months. These include incidents that on their own merits would be considered high profile, such as attacks on police officers. Compounding this threat of domestic radicals is the fact that many of these radicalized locals go off to fight in conflict zones around the world, only to return home with new skills to execute violence. According to French media, an estimated 271 French nationals have returned after fighting overseas in war zones as part of a militant group.
While the powers granted to security forces are wide and in many cases all encompassing, they should not come as a surprise. Even the liberal Macron, whom many perceived as weak on security issues during the election period, recognizes the dire need.