French street movements occupy the international media since Yellow vests Movements began in 2018. As already known, the movements began over a public discontentment derived from general economic problems of middle class and high level of inequality. When middle class could not resist to high cost of living such as increasing prices, tax reforms etc. the protests erupted. Even after two years away from the beginning of protests, the protests in country are still a current issue. This time, however, the protests are not triggered by economic discontent, but by the government’s policies that strengthen the police force and narrow the capacity of civil society. Nowadays, Macron administration tries to promulgate two draft laws which are likely to have negative consequences on civil rights and liberties of minorities and civil society.
Emanuel Macron became President of France in 2017. He was previously in the cabinet of Manuel Valls. He participated in the elections in 2017 with his independent political movement LREM (La République En Marche). He has a personalistic style of leadership. In the elections, he defeated Marine Le Pen, as his opponent. This defeat was important in terms of democracy in France because Le Pen was on the radical side of the political spectrum, promising a political agenda against immigration and EU integration, using a discourse against ethnic and religious minorities. In her official campaign video, she said that she was not feeling safe because of the rising Islamic fundamentalism. She promised to deport illegal migrants and argued that mosques and prayers were cultural threats. Like most of radical right parties, she sought to mobilize its voters by abusing cultural and religious divisions in society and targeting immigrants. However, as France is a country of many different cultures and beliefs, including an increasing number of immigrants, her agenda could be responsive for some voters, but since the society tends to be polarized and has already some level of polarization as everywhere else, that kind of political agenda would not be responsible for the near future of French society. That is why the election of Macron against Le Pen was an important step for the French democracy.
However, the two draft laws that I will explain in detail, which are to be implemented by the Macron administration as the current political agenda, are similar to Le Pen’s agenda if she could come to power. The first bill that Macron wants to promulgate nowadays is about institutions for Muslim minority in the country. After the murder of a teacher, Samuel Paty, and the terrorist attack to Notre-Dame Basilica, government proposes a draft law in order to strengthen the principle of laicité in France, a main and one of the major republican values for France. According to the bill which will be in the Parliament in 2021, Islamic institutions will be under strict control of government. The economic sources of mosques and foundations will be checked, some of them will be shut down. All public and private institutions will be expected to apply the principle of laicité meticulously, restricting all kind of regulation based on religious beliefs. Lastly, with this bill, all children over 3 years old will be educated by republican schools, but not by their families, in order to raise them with republican values rather than some ideologic and fundamentalist ideas according to government.
However, even though the Macron administration declares that this bill seeks to strengthen republican values and attempts to limit radical Islamism, this law may increase the polarization of society. There is also the risk that the law will stigmatize the country’s Muslim minority and create a perception that religion overlaps with terrorism. This policy may also increase the legitimacy of Le Pen, who promised a similar agenda after a terrorist attack during the 2017 presidential campaign. I argue that this bill could be beneficial for Le Pen and that the polarization within society could increase, this would create a social and political environment conducive to the spread of support for the radical right. That is why it can be considered as a sign of democratic erosion, with the own hands of Macron administration. Apart from this, this type of policy poses problems in terms of minority rights, increases the capacity of the state apparatus and risks alienating minorities from politics and public institutions. Hence, the bill can be responsive, but it is not responsible for the near future of French politics.
Second, the country is experiencing a new wave of protests over a draft law on security. This bill attempts to prohibit the public from sharing images of police forces during protests, even in the event of police violence. It is also ironic to attempt to use police violence in these protests which aim to challenge police violence. In addition, the bill expands the reach of local police and private security forces and provides for surveillance of society with drones in the streets. If anyone considers the existence of a high level of police violence during strikes and demonstrations, especially against minorities, this could be a step backwards for the rights of civil society. With the increasing level of state surveillance over the society, this can also be seen as a sign of democratic erosion for France.
France is a consolidated democracy with its
well-established democratic institutions and horizontal and vertical
accountability between these institutions. However, the wave of immigration and
anti-EU perception supported by radical right movements with a high level of
inequality within the society is influencing the democracy in the country. With
a minimum expectation, democracy should be the system in which there are free
and fair elections regularly. In order to have a democratic consolidation,
institutions and rules abide by all political actors and this is the case in
France. However, in terms of liberal democracy, these two draft laws show that
there are some dangers for democracy, because democracy is not about only
elections or institutions, but it is about civil and political rights for the
people. In France, we see a tendency to restrict the civil society, decrease
the inclusiveness, increase the surveillance, and consolidate the regime,
strengthen state apparatus over the society and curtail the minority rights
with a radical right leader’s political agenda. In addition, restricting civil
society and minority rights while strengthening the police force might put
pressure on the action of challenging government’s decisions and policies,
which is seen as a necessity for democracy according to Dahl.
Such policies not only increase polarization in a highly fragmentated society,
but also seek to limit civil society and civil rights vis-à-vis the state. For
all these reasons, France is experiencing a democratic erosion in terms of
civil rights, taking a step back from liberal democracy.
 Henley, John. “Marine Le Pen promises liberation from the EU with France-first policies.” The Guardian, February 5, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/05/marine-le-pen-promises-liberation-from-the-eu-with-france-first-policies
 Robert A. Dahl. 1971. Polyarchy. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press (Ch.1)