Macron’s MPs backtrack on controversial security bill

After meeting with French president, majority MPs said they would 'rewrite' the controversial measure.

Macron’s MPs backtrack on controversial security bill

PARIS — After a week of drama and large demonstrations against a security bill that would ban sharing photographs of police officers “with the manifest aim to harm,” the French government announced plans to overturn its most contentious provision.

Heads of majority groups in the National Assembly said Monday that the controversial measure, contained in the bill’s article 24, would be rewritten, following meetings with the prime minister and at the Elysée.

France’s lower chamber already approved the whole bill last Tuesday.

“This is neither a withdrawal nor a suspension, it is a complete rewrite,” said Christophe Castaner, head of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche group in the National Assembly, at a press conference Monday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Castaner and the heads of two other majority groups met with the French president and others in the executive branch to discuss the contentious article and find a way out of the crisis.

Macron reportedly expressed dismay about his government being seen as illiberal after extensive coverage in domestic and international media highlighted the bill’s impact on fundamental freedoms.

Castaner said he and his colleagues would meet Prime Minister Jean Castex Monday evening to work on the rewrite.

The article set off a week of turmoil for the executive and its majority, leading to mass protests of 133,000 people (according to police) or 500,000 people (according to organizers) on Saturday.

Last Thursday, Castex, under pressure from journalists and human rights groups, set up an independent committee to rewrite the bill, angering his own majority. He backtracked in less than 24 hours after one of the worst parliamentary crises of Macron’s tenure.

Videos of violent police interventions last week, which triggered investigations and even the provisional detention of two policemen, made the article even harder to defend. Several lawmakers from LREM voted against the security bill.

The drama around article 24 has overshadowed other proposed measures in the bill, with critics focusing on how the former could endanger press freedom and prevent citizens from reporting police wrongdoings.

In his press conference, Castaner — who is also Macron’s former interior minister — denied that article 24 could represent such threats and said the rewriting aimed to “erase any doubts” on the matter.

According to Castaner, lawmakers will rewrite the measure after the Senate’s first reading, which is likely to happen in January. An inter-parliamentary group with members from the upper and lower chambers will then work together on a new amendment.

However, Castaner’s way out of the crisis has already put him on collision course with the French parliament’s other half, the Senate, which is anchoring the next step of the legislative process.

“No offense to LREM MPs,” conservative Senator Bruno Retailleau said on Twitter, “but article 24 is still in the text that was sent out to the Senate last Tuesday. According to the Constitution, its rewriting falls into the Senate’s hands.”