French democracy under strain: Citizenship, institutions & civil society.

Report originally published by Chaire Unesco.

Historically, France is a country renowned for its values and principles, which uphold human rights and democracy. However, democracy, which is “the power of the people” etymologically, falls short of achieving the ideal of an independent egalitarian society. Democracy, like society, is evolving constantly. Recently, France has been faced with contradictory movements, which have opened and closed democratic spaces. “Classic” forms of democratic action are generally regressing (voting, political party and trade union involvement). Civic participation is evolving, not regressing, as forms of collective action diversify and certain trade union or partisan organisations are reinvented. Other recent changes have jeopardised democratic vitality and deserve attention: the French mistrust of democracy and its institutions, infringements of the right to protest, threats against the independence of the press, extensions of the state of emergency and, lately, the ramifications of the COVID-19 invoked health emergency. Rights are repeatedly being violated, as confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations’ recent indictments of France for failing to respect international commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms (police practices during the yellow vest movement, discrimination against certain religious symbols or travellers, inhuman conditions of detention, etc.). This situation is a cause of genuine concern for French democracy.