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FRANCE: The Expert Council on NGO Law is concerned about the restrictions by the Bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all

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– By the Expert Council on NGO Law,  31/03/2021, accessible here

The bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all, currently before the French Parliament, seeks to create new obligations for associations and to extend the controls over them.

The Expert Council on NGO Law is deeply concerned about the restrictions that would be placed on the exercise of freedom of association in France if the text were to be adopted as it stands.

The first reason for concern is the planned introduction of a mechanism for monitoring foreign funding of associations. In this respect, Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 states that NGOs should be free to receive contributions from another state or from multilateral bodies. Many Council of Europe bodies have warned against the spread of such mechanisms on the continent. The introduction of such a mechanism in France, the organisation’s host country, would weaken these efforts to keep civil societies connected to the outside world. Moreover, such an introduction would run the risk of raising harmful questions in the public debate about the legitimacy and loyalty of foreign-funded NGOs. The proposed mechanisms also raise problems of necessity and proportionality, given the automaticity of the control they imply.

The Expert Council is also concerned about the extension of the grounds for administrative dissolution of associations. It considers that the text does not sufficiently frame the powers of the administration to avoid arbitrary liquidations of associations. Similarly, the rewriting of the provisions governing the judicial dissolution of associations at the initiative of the Senate Law Commission seems to have been carried out without sufficient legal analysis and results in a regime based on conditions that are too imprecise.

Finally, the Expert Council is concerned about the planned creation of an obligation for any association subsidised by a public authority to sign a “contract of republican commitment”, by which it would declare that it would undertake, in particular, to respect public order and the minimum requirements of life in society. Such an obligation might discourage the associations concerned from expressing views or carrying out actions which, although protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, might be perceived unfavourably by the administration.

In conclusion, the Expert Council recalls the essential contribution of associations to social cohesion and democratic life. They are essential to pluralism, which is also based on the genuine recognition of and respect for the diversity and dynamics of cultural traditions, ethnic and cultural identities, religious beliefs, artistic, literary and socio-economic ideas and concepts.

 Opinion on the compatibility with the European standards of the French Bill to ensure respect for the principles of the republic by all