“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Deprivation of nationality in France: first draft of the constitutional act narrowly approved by the National Assembly

19 February 2016 | Barbara Joannon, Forum Refugies
French national assembly

A draft constitutional act has been put forward by the French President, François Hollande, only three days after the terrorist attacks in Paris last November. The act aims to amend the Constitution and introduce the deprivation of nationality for French born nationals with a second nationality convicted of crimes constituting a serious threat to the Nation.

For years, deprivation of nationality has been an extremely sensitive topic in France, and has sharply divided political parties and even more so over the last few weeks. In particular, the specific mention of dual nationals, as oppose to those citizens who can’t be deprived of their nationality without being made stateless, has been blamed for creating two categories of French citizens.

However, on statelessness in particular, the government has on several occasions reaffirmed its commitment to eradicate statelessness and its determination not to make individuals stateless. In that perspective, the French Prime Minister announced that France would ratify the 1961 Convention - and not the 1954 Convention as rather confusingly stated by Mr Hollande previously. Nevertheless, neither specific timeframe nor more concrete steps to take this forward have been announced yet.

Historically, deprivation of nationality in France was codified into law during the First World War when it applied to German-born citizens who had acquired French nationality but chose to fight against France. Since then, deprivation of nationality for dual citizens has been maintained and is codified in Article 25 of the French Civil Code. It stipulates that a naturalized non-French born citizen can be deprived of their French nationality, unless he or she would otherwise be made stateless but only in limited number of cases, when the person was convicted of a crime or an offense that constitutes a violation of the fundamental interests of the state or a terrorist act or if they have committed acts to the benefit of another State that are incompatible with French nationality and threaten French interests. The latter is also applicable to French born citizens according to article 23-8 of the French Civil Code.

The nationality conundrum

On 10 February, after weeks of vocal debates, members of National Assembly voted in favor of the modification to the Constitution to include the following disposition: “the law defines nationality, including conditions under which a person can be deprived of French nationality or of the rights attached to it in situations where he or she has been condemned for a crime or an offense that constitutes a serious violation to the Nation’s life”. There is however no mention of dual nationals or those born outside France. The inclusion of the mention “of the rights attached to it” shall concern situations where if deprived of their nationality the person would become stateless. Finally, this text includes both crimes and offenses as potential violations leading to deprivation of nationality. Several questions are pending regarding the consequences of the application of deprivation of the French nationality or of the rights attached to it, in particular how to deal with the possible creation of de-facto stateless individuals.

162 members of the National Assembly voted in favor of the text, while 148 voted against and 22 abstained. 245 did not attend the voting session. The Senate (upper house) will go through the draft constitutional act on 16 March and is expected to vote on the text on 22 March. At that point members of the National Assembly and senators will convene in Versailles to sit in Congress. The act will be approved and inserted into the Constitution only if it receives a 3/5 majority. It is far from clear if such a majority would support the act and whether the act will pass the Congress. 

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