France assesses fallout after justice minister’s resignation

Christiane Taubira steps down over plan to strip convicted terrorists of their nationality

Christiane Taubira waves to staff from her bicycle as she leaves the justice ministry in Paris following her resignation on Wednesday. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Christiane Taubira waves to staff from her bicycle as she leaves the justice ministry in Paris following her resignation on Wednesday. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

 

France’s justice minister, Christiane Taubira, resigned yesterday because of what she described as “a major political disagreement” over stripping French people convicted of terrorism of their nationality.

The issue has dominated French politics since president François Hollande announced his plan to enshrine the measure in the constitution.

He did this in a speech to both houses of parliament in Versailles following the November 13th attacks that killed 130 people.

Ms Taubira’s position had become untenable, and Mr Hollande asked her to resign hours before prime minister Manuel Valls presented the draft amendment to the National Assembly’s committee on laws. 

The committee’s chairman and rapporteur for the constitutional revision, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, has replaced Ms Taubira as justice minister.

In December, Ms Taubira told an Algerian radio station that the provision would not, after all, be included in the constitutional revision, which also defines the state of emergency in place in France since the November attacks. 

Mr Hollande contradicted her two days later. 

It would have fallen upon her as justice minister to defend the revision in parliament, but Mr Valls took it upon himself to defend it in her stead.

Representative of the left

Three like-minded ministers resigned in protest at “austerity” policies in the summer of 2014. 

The presence of a left-wing black woman in an important ministry was seen as the government’s last shred of credibility with far-left voters.

Ms Taubira often clashed with Mr Valls on law-and-order issues. 

She fought losing battles on judiciary reform, against broader powers for police and intelligence services, and for better treatment of minors. 

Police unions disliked her intensely, accusing her of encouraging crime and repeat offenders with a “culture of excuses”.

Most of all, Ms Taubira will be remembered for having pushed through the law on same-sex marriage, an achievement that the Élysée recalled in its statement announcing her departure. 

A favourite of the left and the bete noire of the right, she was repeatedly the object of racial slurs.

“I leave the government over a major political disagreement,” Ms Taubira said in her short departure speech. 

“I have chosen to be faithful to myself, to my commitments . . . Faithful to my understanding of us.”

Two classes

de facto

In most cases, the former also hold Algerian, Moroccan or Tunisian passports, and would become second-class citizens before the law, it is argued, since their French nationality could be stripped from them.

The evil of France’s terrorist enemies was the main argument used by Mr Valls when he defended the constitutional revision before the committee on laws yesterday. 

Eleven “Islamist terrorist” attacks had been foiled in 2015, he said, including two in December.

“We have entered into a new world, into a very hard reality that has destroyed a kind of insouciance.”

Ms Taubira recognised that the terrorist threat was “serious” and “unpredictable”, but France was confronting it, she said. 

“We must concede to it no victory, neither military, diplomatic, political nor symbolic.” 

France’s “republican identity” was “robust” enough “to resist time, accidents and tragedies”, she argued.

Powerful

According to Libération newspaper, a majority of cabinet members oppose the measure, whether openly or in private. 

To overcome socialist objections regarding second-class citizenship, Mr Valls announced that the words “dual nationals” would not appear in the constitutional amendment.

But since France adheres to international conventions forbidding governments from creating stateless people, the effect will nonetheless be the same. 

In an attempt to reassure doubting socialists, Mr Valls said terrorists who held only French citizenship wouldbe stripped of their rights.

Critics on both left and right believe the amendment is unnecessary. 

Article 25 of the civil code already provides for the revocation of French nationality for terrorists “unless the revocation renders him stateless”. 

Some also question the efficacy of the step, since the jihadists of Islamic State burn their French passports in propaganda videos and usually end their attacks by taking their own lives.