France: The Senate Delivers Its Version of the Separatism Law

April 29, 2021
The Luxembourg Palace, seat of the French Senate

The French Senate has just adopted an amended version of the bill strengthening respect for the principles of the Republic. If the upper assembly maintained the strict provisions of the Palais-Bourbon in relation to non-contract schools, the new family education regime (IEF) was slightly relaxed. State control over families will be increased in any case.

Senators from the ranks of Les Républicains (LR) saw it as a “text for nothing,” determined to “spice things up,” even if it means making it a part of the electoral platform less than a year from the presidential elections.

The partial shift to the right of the bill reinforcing respect for the principles of the Republic, previously the separatism law, adopted on April 12, 2021 by the Luxembourg Palace, will therefore not surprise anyone.

Article 22 of the bill has not been significantly modified by the senators: administratively it allows the closing of a private educational institution out of contract based on a simple decision of the prefect, whereas in the law still in force, it is up to the magistrates to adjudicate it.

This change, maintained by the upper assembly, is not trivial: it transforms a judicial procedure into an administrative one.

As Pierre Delvolvé, Catholic jurist and member of the Institute, deplores it, in a note addressed to senators: “the legislator is not prohibited from modifying existing provisions. But it must do so with legal guarantees attached to the constitutional requirements. However, by substituting a purely administrative regime for a judicial regime, it deprives legal guarantees of the exercise of freedom of education by private educational establishments.”

The reasons for the closure were taken up as such by the senators: in the event of risks to the health and physical or moral safety of minors – a catch-all concept - or breaches of obligations in terms of monitoring compulsory education and student attendance.

“This measure will make the state more efficient in closing establishments outside the contract,” said Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer.

If this text is primarily intended to regulate establishments of the Muslim faith, some fear that Catholic establishments outside the contract could largely bear the consequences.

In addition, article 22 voted by the Senate provides that the prefect or the rector can also require the transmission of any accounting document outside the first three years of financing of the establishment outside the contract: a way of tightening the screws little more.

In contrast, senators deleted the controversial section of the homeschooling bill in committee, opposing the licensing regime the executive wants to institute.

“Basically, we could not accept this authorization regime” which raised “a general suspicion towards families,” commission rapporteur Stéphane Piednoir (LR) told AFP. It's about petting the right-wing electorate, less than a year from the election.

Nevertheless, the senators have kept the administrative attachment of any homeschooled student to a school: nothing will be as before.

Other more electoral measures have been added by the Senate. Thus, the ban on the wearing of the veil by mothers of students accompanying school trips and the ban on the practice of worship within the confines of public higher education establishments. Or the possibility of dissolving associations that organize single-sex meetings with the idea of no longer leaving the subject of the Islamization of society to the National Assembly (RN) alone.

The changes made by the senators angered the left. Marie-Pierre de La Gontrie (PS) lamented that the right had decided to transform it “into an electoral leaflet,” while the leader of environmentalists Guillaume Gontard castigated “a total unabashed bypass.”

In such a context, there is little chance that the text will achieve consensus in the joint committee of the two chambers (CMP).

However, given that the parliamentary agenda is very busy, it is rumored that the government would be willing to give some concessions on homeschooling, in exchange for the removal of the veil regulations.

Either way, state control over families will be reinforced, and their fundamental freedoms diminished.