The French political system features vibrant democratic processes and generally strong protections for civil liberties and political rights. However, successive governments have responded to deadly terrorist attacks in recent years by curtailing constitutional protections and empowering law enforcement to infringe upon personal freedoms. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment continue to be rife throughout the country.
- The Global Security Bill, which passed in April and formalized the 2020 National Enforcement Law, caused concerns over the securitization of protests and media coverage. The Constitutional Council in May ruled against one of its the bill’s more controversial articles, which outlawed the spread of identifiable images of police that sought to identify or harm them or their families. Though this was removed, other concerning provisions of the law were kept in place.
- The National Assembly in July enacted the Reinforcing Republican Principles Bill, also known as the Anti-Separatism Law, which eased authorities’ ability to disband associations that allegedly disrespect so-called “values of the Republic.” The government has used the law to target organizations that combat Islamophobia, including the Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia (CRI) organization, which the government dissolved in October claiming its activities provoked violence.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The French president is chief of state, and is elected to five-year terms by direct, universal suffrage in a two-round system. The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the president. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist newcomer to politics, won the second round of the 2017 presidential election against Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Front (FN).
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) expressed confidence in the integrity of French elections.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the lower house of Parliament, the 577-seat National Assembly, are elected to five-year terms in a two-round system. The upper house, the 348-seat Senate, is an indirectly elected body whose members serve six-year terms. In the 2017 legislative elections, Macron’s La République en Marche! (LREM) and its centrist ally won 350 seats in the National Assembly.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
France’s electoral laws and framework are fair and implemented impartially. In March 2021, Parliament passed legislation to improve election rules before the 2022 presidential poll, facilitating the postal vote for imprisoned people, proxy voting, and voting for French citizens living abroad.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Parties are generally able to organize and operate freely. Elections in recent years have been competitive and less dominant parties have gained more visibility.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The recent elections have demonstrated that parties outside the political mainstream can gain power through elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from domination. However, some media outlets have drawn outsized attention to controversial political personalities, potentially skewing public perception for economic gain.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
No laws restrict the political participation of women, LGBT+ people, and other marginalized groups. However, far-right parties and their nationalist ideologies have become more mainstream and have emboldened racist commentary in public discourse, further excluding marginalized groups from the political sphere. The LREM’s rhetoric surrounding the Reinforcing Republican Principles Bill, enacted in August 2021, targeted the French Muslim population, claiming the need to protect the country’s values and traditions. Critics have called the law discriminatory and politically polarizing.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government. However, the ruling LREM has increasingly used Article 49.3 of the constitution—the ordonnance process—to forego parliamentary debate and change government policy.
The “health state of emergency” declared in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic has increasingly shifted powers to the executive. The parliament has voted six times between March 2020 and March 2021 to establish and extend the state of emergency, granting Macron expanded powers.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Despite a 2017 law seeking to reduce conflicts of interest, corruption allegations have been lodged against several high-level government officials in recent years. In most cases, these officials have resigned or been dismissed from office. A few other officials, such as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti, were the focuses of ongoing investigations or complaints at the end of the year.
In September 2021, former president Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty of illegal campaign financing during the 2012 presidential election and sentenced to one year in prison. He had been convicted in March 2021 in another case of corruption and influence peddling.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
The government generally operates with openness and transparency, although it has increasingly used the ordonnance process and an accelerated procedure—which limits Parliament’s discussion of draft legislation—to enact policies without parliamentary debate or public scrutiny. These powers were used to push through the controversial Reinforcing Republican Principles Bill and the much-criticized Global Security Bill in 2021.
The government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was inconsistent and lacked transparency. A December 2020 report from parliament’s investigative committee on the management of the pandemic criticized the health sector’s lack of preparedness and its chaotic and erratic decision-making processes. Former minister of health Agnès Buzyn was indicted in September 2021 for publicly minimizing the danger of the coronavirus pandemic before she stepped down in February 2020 to run in the Paris mayoral election.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
The media generally operate freely and represent a wide range of political opinions. In 2020 there were some incidents of violence against journalists.
The 2020 National Law Enforcement Doctrine stipulates that no exceptions in legal terms are to be made for journalists covering protests that police disperse. The doctrine was formalized in the April 2021 Global Security Bill, causing concerns over the securitization of protests and media coverage. The Constitutional Council in May ruled against one of the law’s more controversial articles, which outlawed the spread of identifiable images of police with the intent to identify or harm them or their families. Though this was removed, other stipulations in the law remain concerning for press freedom.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution protects freedom of religion. Antidefamation laws penalize religiously motivated abuse, and Holocaust denial is illegal. The government maintains the policy of laïcité (secularism), whereby religion and state affairs are strictly separated, though it also has official relationships with organizations representing the country’s three major religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
The controversial Reinforcing Republican Principles Bill, also known as the Anti-Separatism Law, was passed by the National Assembly in July 2021. Claiming to combat “religious separatism,” the law allows the government to dissolve religious organizations, increases the surveillance of mosques and Muslim associations, and requires the latter to sign a contract of “respect for Republican values” when applying for state subsidies. Critics have warned that it particularly stigmatizes Muslims and could increase Islamophobic sentiment.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin was accused of expressing antisemitic sentiments in his book, Islamic Separatism. Far-right media personalities, such as Éric Zemmour, have flagrantly displayed racist and antisemitic beliefs in the public sphere.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
There are no formal restrictions on academic freedom in France.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Though citizens express their views publicly, the government’s surveillance and tracking of individuals based on their political views has raised concerns in recent years. Three government decrees were approved in January 2021 by the Council of State that expanded the government’s powers to compile information for three public security files, allowing authorities, in the name of national security, to keep records on alleged political militants and activists, their families (including underage children), their health, or their activities on social media. Civil society groups, human rights activists, and labor organizations heavily criticized the decrees.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is normally respected. However, the government’s restrictions on public gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were declared unconstitutional by the Council of State in June 2020. Political protests in 2020 were marked by police use of unnecessary force.
In 2021, a new series of lockdowns and curfews were introduced to counter new COVID-19 variants. Demonstrators gathered despite these restrictions to protest the passe sanitaire (health pass). Established in July to replace lockdown measures, the pass limited access to public gatherings to vaccinated people or those who had tested negative for the virus.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate freely. However, the National Law Enforcement Doctrine and the Global Security Bill have complicated and obstructed NGO reports around protests and police actions.
The Reinforcing Republican Principles Bill eased authorities’ ability to disband associations that allegedly disrespect so-called “values of the Republic.” The law has been used to target organizations that seek to combat Islamophobia. The Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) was dissolved by decree in December 2020 for its failure to moderate its social media comments; the Council of State approved the dissolution in September 2021. In October, the government dissolved the Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia (CRI) organization, claiming its activities ostensibly provoke violence.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because the government passed legislation that has been used to target organizations that combat Islamophobia, dubiously claiming they provoke violence.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Trade unions are generally free to operate without any undue restrictions.
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
France has an independent judiciary, and the rule of law generally prevails in court proceedings.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Due process generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. However, antiterrorism legislation passed in 2017, which replaced a state of emergency instituted after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, enshrined controversial administrative control measures into law.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
The number of complaints of police violence sent to the police’s internal disciplinary body (IPGN) has sharply increased since 2018, as have suspicions that the IGPN is too lenient on police forces.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Romany people living in France face systemic discrimination. They were particularly affected by the government lockdowns enforced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with many struggling to access basic services like water and electricity.
Anti-Muslim sentiment, attacks against mosquegoers, reports of vandalism of mosques, and verbal assaults have increased in recent years. A variety of antisemitic conspiracy theories surged after the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. The far-right has become increasingly successful in using racist language to shape French public discourse. In January 2021, six international and French organizations sent a formal notice to the government calling for an end to the use of ethnic profiling and other forms of discrimination by the police. In July, they filed a class action lawsuit against the French state.
The efficacy of government efforts to address gender inequality is unclear. Research published in October 2020 by the European Trade Union Confederation revealed that the French gender pay gap has only narrowed by 0.1 percent since 2010. Sexual harassment of women is a prominent issue.
Migrants and refugees in France continue to face societal discrimination and abuse from authorities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they received reduced aid, were heavily policed, and experienced dangerous sanitary conditions. In 2021, NGOs providing humanitarian assistance in Calais reported police mistreatment and abuse of both migrants and aid workers. In Paris, groups of Afghan refugees were reportedly harassed, sometimes with force, by French police who raided makeshift camps. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in May on the expulsion of unaccompanied children to Italy, in violation of both French and international law.
In November 2021, the government announced they would offer migrants accommodation when dismantling camps, would end unannounced evictions, and would allow migrants more time to gather their possessions. Throughout the year, tensions between French and British authorities rose over disputes about migrants in northern France who attempted to reach the United Kingdom by boat. That month, close to 30 migrants drowned in the British Channel after their boat capsized.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
While there are normally no restrictions on freedom of travel or choice of residence or employment in France, the government enforced lockdowns that significantly restricted movement to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Authorities were criticized for discriminatory enforcement of the rules, as marginalized groups were far more policed than the rest of the population. As of August 2021, more than one million French workers, including health sector workers, were required to have a health pass or proof of vaccination to continue working.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Private businesses are free to operate.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Individuals generally enjoy personal social freedoms—including choice of marriage partner and size of family. A measure approving access to fertility treatments for women, including single women and lesbian couples, was passed by Parliament in June 2021; however, transgender individuals were excluded, and surrogacy remains illegal.
During the two COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, reports of domestic violence rose sharply, despite government measures to prevent this. Authorities implemented mechanisms to report violence and set up safe zones, for which legislation was adopted in June 2020. However, the appointment of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who is being criminally investigated for rape, in July 2020 caused shock and anger among many.
Muslim women remain the target of several laws enacted in recent years preventing them from wearing clothing that involves religious practice, forcing some women to dress against their will.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Employment discrimination against women, French Muslims, immigrants of North African descent, and other marginalized groups hinders equality of opportunity. While France’s government acts against human trafficking, the problem persists in the commercial sex trade; some victims are also forced into domestic labor.
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Global Freedom Score89 100 free
Internet Freedom Score76 100 free