Polity: Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Population: 59,500,000
GNI/Capita: $24,223
Life Expectancy: 79
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (83-88 percent), Protestant (2 percent), Muslim (5-10 percent), other (less than 10 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Indochinese, Basque minorities
Capital: Paris

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 1
Status: Free

Ratings Change
France's civil liberties rating improved from 2 to 1 due to changes in the survey methodology.


In the year's polls, Jacques Chirac was reelected president, and his party gained a parliamentary majority. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, new security laws, granting police sweeping new search-and-seizure powers, came into effect. Racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic behavior increased sharply. Police brutality against minorities remained an issue. Human rights groups voiced concern about the increase in legal proceedings being launched against journalists, claiming such proceedings endanger freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

After World War II, France established a parliamentary Fourth Republic, which was governed by coalitions and ultimately failed because of the Algerian war. The Fifth Republic began in 1958 under Prime Minister (and later President) Charles de Gaulle. Since 1965, the president has been elected by popular vote. In October 2000, a referendum put presidential elections on the same schedule as parliamentary elections, thereby reducing the likelihood of "cohabitation" – having a president and a prime minister from different parties.

The right-of-center president, Jacques Chirac, defeated a far-right veteran, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the second round of voting on May 5. Mr. Chirac was further rewarded with a huge parliamentary majority at the legislative election on June 16, which ended five years of cohabitation. The prime minister, appointed by the president, is Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP), a federation of the Rally for the Republic (RPR), the Union for French Democracy (UDF), and the Liberal Democrats (DL) parties, won an outright parliamentary majority for the first time in more than 30 years. The government's priorities are to decentralize power; crack down on crime; cut income tax; relax the lois Aubry (a law that limits the workweek to 35 hours); and tackle pension reform.

Now that President Chirac has triumphed over the corruption scandal that dogged him throughout 2001 – which involved an alleged slush fund set up to funnel bribes from public works contracts to his RPR party – the French daily Le Monde reported that he is working to fire those who he believes helped publicize the scandals. They include the heads of the two main intelligence services, the General Directorate of External Security espionage agency and the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance for Counterespionage.

In January 2002, France adopted the euro as the national currency.

A sharp rise in racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic behavior in Western Europe followed the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. In France the rise was particularly evident. Between March 29 and April 17, 2002, the police recorded 395 anti-Semitic incidents, 63 percent of which involved anti-Semitic graffiti; between January 1 and April 2, police recorded 34 "serious anti-Semitic actions," for example, attacks on Jewish persons or property, including synagogues and cemeteries.

The European parliament amended in May the 1997 European Community directive on privacy in telecommunications, obliging member states to retain all telecommunications data for one to two years and to provide the relevant authorities unrestricted access to these data in order to assist law enforcement officials in eradicating crime. Human rights groups attacked this move as an assault on privacy and civil liberty.

In July, France and Britain agreed to close the Sangatte Red Cross refugee center, which houses about 1,700 mainly Afghan and Kurdish asylum seekers, by early 2003 with help from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Sangatte, located on France's northern coast about a mile from the Channel Tunnel entrance, became a base for constant attempts to cross illegally to England, causing strains in relations between the two countries. By October, five Afghans had voluntarily repatriated to Afghanistan under the Tripartite Agreement signed by France, Afghanistan and the UNHCR.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

French citizens can change their government democratically by directly electing the president and National Assembly. The constitution grants the president significant emergency powers, including rule by decree under certain circumstances. The president may call referenda and dissolve parliament, but may not veto parliamentary acts or routinely issue decrees. Decentralization has given mayors significant power over housing, transportation, schools, culture, welfare, and law enforcement. The judiciary is independent.

In November 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the United States, parliament adopted new antiterror legislation. Police may search cars with a prosecutor's authorization and other private property without warrants. They have greater access to private telephone conversations and e-mail. Judges can demand that phone and Internet companies save telecommunications data for one to two years.

In December 2001, the Council of the European Union adopted by "written procedure" antiterrorism legislation that requires member states to prevent "the public" from offering "any form of support, active or passive" to terrorists and to check all refugees and asylum seekers for terrorist connections. Human rights groups criticized the legislation because it does not distinguish between conscious or unconscious assistance, treats would-be immigrants as criminals, and was not debated in parliament before being adopted.

In January 2002, Le Monde reported that six journalists' phones had been tapped in 2000 and 2001 as part of French National Anti-Terrorist Service investigations into events in Corsica. In February, five journalists and editors of Radio France were charged with making "racist insults" and for "complicity" because of a satirical program about Corsicans broadcast in May 2001 by the affiliated station France Inter. Reporters Without Borders criticized the charges as undermining freedom of expression and contradicting European Court of Human Rights rulings regarding press freedoms.

The Internal Security Guidance and Planning Law was passed in July 2002. The law gives police, with a judge's permission, the power to make remote online searches of Internet service providers and their records of customers' Internet activities and private and professional e-mail traffic. Critics are concerned about Internet-based freedom of expression and individual rights to confidentiality.

In April, journalists were verbally insulted and physically attacked during a demonstration by Jewish organizations that accused the media of "twisting" the news to favor Palestinians over Israelis. In May, several Jewish organizations brought a lawsuit against a journalist and radio host for broadcasting anti-Israeli remarks to listeners. The RSF voiced concern over increasingly common legal actions against the right to free expression.

In December 2001, parliament devolved to Corsica's parliament some legislative autonomy and allowed the island's schools to conduct instruction in the Corsican language.

In January 2002, the case of Pascal Tais, who died in police custody in April 1993, was reopened by the Appeal Court of Bordeaux on the basis of new information alleging police brutality. The Court of Appeal of Versailles, in February, reduced the sentence of two police officers convicted in the death of Aissa Ihich (who died of an asthma attack in 1991 while in police custody) from 10-month suspended prison terms to 8 months, making the officers eligible for amnesty and enabling them to pursue their careers. The National Police directorate, in March, reported that the five officers who were found guilty of torturing Moroccan and Netherlands nationals Ahmed Selmouni and Abdelmajid Madi in 1991 had been transferred to other police services and would not be receiving further disciplinary action.

Despite open suspicion toward Muslims and prohibitions against wearing religious garb or symbols in state schools, religious freedom is protected. Parliament adopted in June 2001 a bill allowing courts to ban groups considered sects. Transparency International ranked France 25th on its 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index, the lowest evaluation of any EU member state, except Portugal.

Labor rights are respected, and strikes are widely and effectively used to protest government economic policy. Women enjoy equal rights in France but earn only 73 percent of what men earn.

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