French law to provide permanent safeguards against extremism

New EU measures provide Europe-wide counter-extremism plan

epa08872132 European Commissioner for Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas (L) and European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson (R) give a press conference on the Security Union progress report on Counter-Terrorism Agenda and on Europol Regulation at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 09 December 2020.  EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ / POOL

France published a new law to tackle social divisions along religious and ideological lines, with the prime minister vowing to tackle entities that “divide and spread hate and violence”.

Jean Castex said the legislation was designed to take on “the manifestation of a conscious, theorised, political-religious project with an ambition to make religious norms predominate over the law”.

The bill is aimed at political ideology that threatens French values.

Mr Castex said the safeguards would most immediately be in relation to Islamists working inside social fronts.

“Today it is radical Islamism that we try by all means to fight,” he said.

President Emmanuel Macron and Mr Castex have insisted that neither Islam as a religion nor regular Muslim citizens are targeted by the draft law.

The detail of the 50 articles sets out aims for enabling better oversight of mosques, associations, public services and schools.

The objective is to reduce the space in which radicals can operate and ensure that French values, including secularism, are guaranteed.

Among notable measures is making school obligatory from when children turn 3, with the ability to opt out in favour of home schooling for special cases only.

The measure is aimed at ending clandestine schools run by extremists with their own agenda.

Another article encourages mosques to register as places of worship, to better identify them.

Many of the nation’s more than 2,600 mosques operate under rules for associations.

Foreign funding for mosques, while not forbidden, would have to be declared if it were more than €10,000 ($12,112).

The draft law would make it a crime for a doctor to provide a young woman with virginity certificates, which are sometimes demanded ahead of marriage.

It would be punishable by punishable by fines and up to a year in prison.

To do away with forced marriages, a measure requires the couple to meet separately for an interview with an official when there is a doubt about free consent.

If the doubt persists, the official must take the issue to a prosecutor who could forbid the marriage.

Those practising polygamy would be forbidden French residence cards.

Meanwhile, the European Commission adopted a new counter-extremism strategy to protect communities and institutions from extremist influence.

“The terrorist attacks are attacks towards our society, not only to individuals but also to our societies, our values and our freedom. And this is what we need to defend and protect,” said Ylva Johansson, the EU Commissioner for home affairs.

The Counter-Terrorism Agenda unveiled on Wednesday covers teaching in schools and guidance on prevention of radicalisation among prisoners.

The EU’s executive arm also said efficient detection of suspects at the bloc’s borders is crucial to guarantee European citizens' security.

Ms Johansson said all 27 member states were responsible for protecting common borders as part of “who is coming and who is leaving and to have alerts, watch lists, of those who might cause a threat towards our security".

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