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Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Net Freedom Status: 

Ratings Change:

France’s civil liberties rating declined from 1 to 2 due to infringements on personal autonomy, particularly controls on dress and religious symbols, that disproportionately focus on women, following earlier deterioration related to terrorist attacks and aggressive counterterrorism measures.


The French political system features vibrant democratic processes and generally strong protections for civil liberties and political rights. However, due to a number of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years, the government has been increasingly willing to curtail constitutional protections and empower law enforcement to act in ways that impinge on personal freedoms. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments have also become features of the political community.

Key Developments: 
  • Multiple incidents of terrorist violence, including a July attack in Nice that killed 86 people, led to repeated extensions of a state of emergency, in place since November 2015.
  • Beginning in late July, around 30 municipal governments issued short-term bans on the burkini, a full-body swimsuit, citing fears about the garment’s links to Islamist extremism; the bans, as well as continuing concerns about terrorism, fueled public debate about French policies toward immigration and Islam.
  • In November, the Republican Party conducted its first primary campaign ever, and voters selected former prime minister François Fillon to be the party’s nominee for president in the 2017 election.
Executive Summary: 

Several terrorist attacks took place in France in 2016, and security concerns continued to influence political discussions and decisions. In June, a man claiming allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) killed a police commander and his wife in Magnanville. In July, a man drove a truck through a crowd that had gathered for a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, killing 86 people and injuring more than 300. Although IS claimed responsibility for the attack, police had not uncovered definitive evidence of operational links between the driver and the terrorist group at year’s end. Also in July, two men claiming affiliation with IS stormed a Catholic church in Normandy during a mass, taking multiple hostages before brutally murdering the priest.

 These and other attacks led the government to repeatedly extend France’s state of emergency, first declared in November 2015 after a string of coordinated attacks in Paris. Local and international rights groups have criticized the extensions, voicing concerns with the French authorities’ power to conduct raids, make arrests, block websites, and restrict free expression with little judicial oversight under the state of emergency. As part of its international campaign against terrorism, France continued its participation in a military coalition against IS, conducting air strikes and ground operations against targets in Iraq and Syria.

Political parties began laying the groundwork for the 2017 presidential election. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front (FN) and a strong proponent of anti-immigration and Euroskeptic views, was widely expected to perform strongly in the vote. In December, incumbent president François Hollande announced he would not seek reelection, creating an open contest for the Socialist Party (PS) nomination. Against a backdrop of terrorist attacks, continuing migration flows from the Middle East and North Africa, and preparations for the election, public discussion was dominated by concerns about security, religion, and immigration during the year. In July and August, the mayors of more than two dozen towns issued short-term bans on the burkini based on security concerns, citing fears about the garment’s links to Islamist extremism. In August, the Council of State, the highest administrative court in the country, ruled that the bans violate fundamental freedoms.


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