Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
President François Hollande of the center-left Socialist Party (PS) continued to struggle with a weak economy in 2013, a year after he won the presidency by defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). In May, Parliament approved labor reform legislation backed by Hollande that allowed businesses more leeway to fire employees or reduce pay and hours during economic downturns, in exchange for better benefits for workers on short-term contracts, which had become the most common means of hiring new workers. However, Hollande faced criticism for not taking stronger measures to revive the economy and reduce unemployment, which remained over 10 percent through the end of 2013.
The issue of the integration of immigrants and Muslims into French society—a priority since youth riots swept the nation’s cities in 2005—remained prominent throughout 2013, as a ban on Islamic head scarves in public spaces led to a number of violent incidents. The government deported nearly 20,000 Roma immigrants in 2013, double the previous year’s total.
In April, the National Assembly passed legislation to legalize gay marriage. Hollande signed the law in May despite months of mass protests by opponents of the measure.
Political Rights: 38 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
The French president and members of the lower house of Parliament, the 577-seat National Assembly, are elected to five-year terms. The upper house, the 348-seat Senate, is an indirectly elected body whose members serve six-year terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president. In April 2012, Hollande won the first round of the presidential election with 28.6 percent of the vote, ahead of Sarkozy, who took 27.2 percent. Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his successor as head of the far-right National Front, placed third, with 17.9 percent. Hollande won the election in a runoff against Sarkozy in May, with 51.6 percent of the vote to Sarkozy’s 48.4 percent, becoming France’s first Socialist president since François Mitterrand left office in 1995.
In June 2012, the PS and its allies won an absolute majority of 314 seats in the National Assembly, while the UMP and its allies took 229 seats. In 2011, the PS had taken control of the Senate for the first time in the history of France’s Fifth Republic.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16
Parties organize and compete on a free and fair basis. The center-left PS and the center-right UMP are the largest parties, though the far-right, anti-immigration National Front party receives significant support. National Front leader Marine Le Pen won nearly 18 percent of the vote in the first round of the 2012 presidential election, placing third behind Hollande and Sarkozy. Since taking over the FN in 2011, Le Pen has sought to give it a new image as a mainstream party.
The 2012 parliamentary elections yielded a record eight new members from immigrant backgrounds. However, they comprised just 2 percent of the new National Assembly, prompting renewed calls from minority rights groups for a law ensuring ethnic diversity in politics.
C. Functioning of Government: 11 / 12
In 2010, Labor Minister Éric Woerth was accused of corruption for allegedly accepting illegal donations from L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt on behalf of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. In March 2013, Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation on a charge of “exploiting the frailty” of Bettencourt by soliciting donations from her after she was declared to be suffering from dementia. The case against Sarkozy was dropped in October, though 10 others, including Woerth, still face trial in the case. Sarkozy’s campaign organization was still under criminal investigation for allegedly accepting money from then Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2007.
International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, who served as finance minister in Sarkozy’s cabinet, was questioned by French judges in May 2013 over her decision to send a case involving businessman Bernard Tapie, a Sarkozy backer, to arbitration in 2007. Tapie had won a judgment of 285 million euros ($366 million) after suing the government for fraud over a 1993 deal in which he sold his stake in sporting goods maker Adidas to Credit Lyonnais, a bank that was state-owned at the time. Tapie was arrested in June 2013 and placed under formal investigation for fraud.
Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who had led the Hollande government’s crackdown in tax evasion, resigned in March 2013 after being placed under investigation for tax fraud and money laundering. Cahuzac admitted on April 2 that he had lied to Hollande and Parliament by denying reports that he held secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Singapore. Later that month, at Hollande’s order, all 38 members of his cabinet publicly declared their assets. France was ranked 22 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 57 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16
The media operate freely and represent a wide range of political opinions. Though an 1881 law forbids “offending” various personages, including the president and foreign heads of state, the press remains lively and critical. Reporters covering criminal cases or publishing material from confidential court documents have occasionally come under pressure by the courts to reveal their sources.
While internet access is generally unrestricted, a domestic security law, which came into effect in March 2011, allows the filtering of online content. A separate March 2011 decree requires internet companies to provide user data, including passwords, to authorities if requested. In July 2013, Twitter said it gave Paris prosecutors data that could identify users who posted anti-Semitic comments in 2012. Several activist groups, including the French Union of Jewish Students and SOS Racisme, had sued Twitter to force it to identify those who had posted the messages under pseudonyms.
Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution, and strong antidefamation laws prohibit religiously motivated attacks. Denial of the Nazi Holocaust is illegal. France maintains the policy of laïcité, whereby religion and government affairs are strictly separated. A 2004 law bans “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools.
In October 2010, the Senate nearly unanimously passed a bill banning clothing that covers the face, including the burqa and niqab, in public spaces. The ban went into effect in April 2011. Violators of the ban can be fined up to €150 (US$215) or ordered to take citizenship lessons, and a man who forces a woman to wear a niqab can be fined €30,000 (US$43,000). In March 2013, the Court of Cassation, France’s highest appeals court, ruled that a Muslim woman had been illegally dismissed in 2007 for wearing a head scarf to work at a private child care center in a Paris suburb. In June 2013, two men attacked a pregnant Muslim woman wearing a head scarf in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil, shouting anti-Islamic slurs and cutting off her hair; she suffered a miscarriage. Rioting broke out in the immigrant neighborhood Trappes in the Paris suburbs on July 18, 2013, after police stopped a woman for wearing a veil covering her face. A 16-year-old girl in Trappes filed charges accusing two skinheads of attacking her on August 13 for wearing a head scarf. In August, Le Monde reported that the official High Council for Integration had proposed a new ban on wearing religious symbols, including head scarves, at universities, citing “growing tensions” over religious differences on campuses.
On July 2, 2013, a committee of the European Parliament voted to remove the legal immunity of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, a member of the legislature, in order to allow prosecutors to pursue charges brought against her in 2011 for incitement of hatred and discrimination. The case concerned a 2010 speech in which she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the German occupation of France in World War II. A controversial September 2011 directive banned street prayer.
Academic freedom is respected by French authorities.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. In June 2013, authorities in Toulouse barred a rally by a far-right youth group, following the death of a leftist student who had been beaten in a clash between far-left and far-right youths in Paris.
Nongovernmental organizations can operate freely. Trade union organizations are strong despite fractionalization, declining density and a lack of legal protections relative to more corporatist European countries.
F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16
France has an independent judiciary, and the rule of law is firmly established. Prisons are overcrowded, and suicides are common. The country’s antiterrorism campaign has included surveillance of mosques, and terrorism suspects can be detained for up to four days without charge.
In July 2013, Le Monde reported that the French foreign intelligence service, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), was collecting data on nearly all communications, including telephone calls, e-mails, and social media posts, sent in and out of France. The report came days after Hollande rebuked the United States for using similar data collection methods to spy on allies including France, a practice revealed by documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. In October, the government again made official protests after Le Monde reported that the NSA had intercepted some 70 million telephone communications in France in one 30-day period from December 2012 to January 2013.
French law forbids the categorization of people according to ethnic origin. No official statistics are collected on ethnicity, but minorities are underrepresented in leadership positions in both the private and public sectors. In May 2013, the National Assembly approved legislation to ban the word “race” from the penal code, fulfilling a campaign pledge by Hollande. In March 2013, the independent French Consultative Commission on Human Rights reported that the number of racist acts reported to police rose by more than 23 percent in 2012, and cited growing intolerance toward immigrants.
In 2013, France reportedly deported a record 19,380 Roma, up from about 9,400 in 2012 and 6,400 in 2011, increasing sharply under Hollande despite his previous criticism of Sarkozy for such expulsions. After Valls said in September that most Roma were incapable of integrating into French society and should be deported, the European Commission warned France that it could face sanctions if it did not respect the rights of Roma as European Union citizens. In October, police took a 15-year-old Roma girl, high school student Leonarda Dibrani, off a school bus to be deported with her family to Kosovo. Responding to criticism of her treatment, Hollande said she would be allowed to return to France to continue her education if she wished—but without her family.
Corsica continues to host a sometimes-violent separatist movement. In 2001, the government devolved some legislative powers to the island and allowed teaching in the Corsican language in public schools. As of 2013, Corsica had the highest murder rate in Europe.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16
Gender equality is protected in France, and constitutional reforms in 2008 institutionalized economic and social equality. However, in the 2013 Global Gender Gap report, France ranked the lowest (tied with Mauritania) among countries that responded to a question on wage equality. Some electoral lists require the alternation of candidates by gender. After the 2012 elections, women held a record 27 percent of seats in the National Assembly. Women hold 22 percent of Senate seats, and have served in key cabinet posts, as well as serving as prime minister.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by law. In April 2013, the National Assembly approved legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, despite mass protests by conservative opponents, including a Paris demonstration that drew at least 340,000 people (according to police) in January. Hollande signed the bill into law on May 18, a day after the Constitutional Council rejected a legal challenge by the UMP. France became the 14th nation in the world to make gay marriage legal, and the ninth in Europe.
Right groups and academic studies have reported evidence of labor market discrimination against French Muslims, reflected in hiring patterns and income differentials.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year