On 13th September 2022, the prefect of the Vienne department sent letters to the local authorities in Poitiers, a city in Western France, urging them to withdraw their funding to “Village des Alternatives”, a festival organised by Alternatiba, a grassroots movement fighting against climate change and social inequalities. Alternatiba Poitiers planned to organise civil disobedience workshops in the context of actions against climate change. According to the prefect, the scheduled activities would allegedly breach the “contract of republican commitment”, a requirement introduced by the so-called Separatism Bill. The “contract of republican commitment” is compulsory whenever an association applies for a grant from a public authority or body, requests state approval or recognition of public utility, or wishes to engage a civic service volunteer. In turn, the association commits itself to respect the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, human dignity, the secular nature of the State and to refrain from any action undermining public order.
In his letter, the prefect wrote that “Associations must not undertake or incite any action that is manifestly contrary to the law, violent or likely to cause serious disturbance to public order, the association undertakes not to incite hatred or violence towards anyone and not to condone such actions” (unofficial translation from French).
During its adoption, the law “on the respect of the republican principles”, dubbed as “Separatism bill”, and its “contract of commitment to Republican values” received wide opposition from civil society at national and international level, and the contrary advise of the national human rights body and of the Council of Europe Expert Council on NGO Law, on the basis that the law dramatically increases the control and interference of public authorities and institutions on the right to associate.
ALTERNATIBA POITIERS REACTION TO THE REQUEST
Alternatiba Poitiers reacted to the letter of the prefect reminding that civil disobedience is non-violent by its very nature and serves to enable freedom of expression and citizen engagement in an area of common concern like climate change.
🙏 Soutiens le mouvement climat : https://t.co/vt6cKnVTkM
Voici la réaction d'Alternatiba Poitiers 👇 pic.twitter.com/MUlhHJ3J9H
— Alternatiba (@Alternatiba_) September 17, 2022
SOLIDARITY FROM CSOs and LOCAL GOVERNEMENT
In a press release the Mouvement associatif, the biggest network of French civil society, showed its solidarity to Alternatiba and argued that the case illustrates well the negative consequences of the application of the “contract of republican commitment” on freedom of association.
À la lecture des derniers évènements, notamment du cas d'@Alternatiba Poitiers, @lemouvementasso réaffirme son opposition au contrat d’engagement républicain et s’alerte des premières dérives constatées.
— Le Mouvement associatif (@lemouvementasso) September 21, 2022
“This pact of trust between the State and associations, which we support, cannot be fully developed unless the concerns of the actors and partners of associative life regarding the Republican Commitment Contract are taken into account and responses are provided.” (translation from French).
The mayor of Poitiers, one of the recipients of the letters, criticised the request of the prefect as disproportionate and offered her support to Alternatiba, refusing to defund the activities. The urban community of Poitiers published a press release where it stated its ongoing support to initiatives aimed at fighting against climate change.
The festival, including the workshops on civil disobedience was successfully held from 16 to 18 September 2022.