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What Are the Implications of France Declaring a State of Emergency?

Jean-Hugues Matelly, lieutenant colonel of the Gendarmerie, explains what happens when the police and authority powers in France are given extended power during a crisis like the terrorism attacks in Paris.
November 14, 2015, 6:15pm

Last night, French President François Hollande gathered the council of ministers and declared a state of emergency in France in response to the terrorist attacks that rocked the city. He also requested military backup to prevent any other attacks in and around Paris, and enacted enhanced measures that will allow authorities to search and arrest people suspected of suspicious behavior and seize weapons. He also called for the immediate closure of all theaters and meeting halls and announced the instatement of strict controls on France's borders.

According to Law No. 55-385 of April 3, 1955, a state of emergency can be declared "in case of imminent danger resulting from serious breaches of public order." To enact this state, the executive authorities publish a decree, and after 12 days French Parliament must decide whether to extend the state of emergency by passing a law that sets its official time into effect.


Jean-Hugues Matelly, lieutenant colonel of the Gendarmerie and president of the Association GendXXI (National Professional Association of Military Police of the 21st Century), said the move was not a "state of exception." He added, "We're in a state that is scheduled and supervised by French law."

During the state of emergency, the powers given to the police and administrative authorities are increased, regardless of judicial authority. "Measures that are normally the responsibility of the judicial police, such as searches, may be applied [to other authorities]" Matelly explained. In this exceptional state, the control of and permission to carry out such measures is given by an administrative or judicial court ahead of time, but actually checked retrospectively, after actions may have already been carried out.

However, since not every prefect in Paris's different districts has a right to ban movement of people or vehicles, the increased power to all police and administrative authorities is not yet in full effect.

READ: Why the Islamic State Attacked Paris—And What Happens Next

"Since Friday night, many have used the term 'war,'" Matelly said. "We should avoid failing into such trap. The state of war has not been declared." Indeed, there are other terms that fall within a "pre-war situation" under section 36 of the Constitution, such as "state of siege." But the use of "war" vocabulary could add to the already present terror and be counter-productive or even dangerous.

The state of emergency can be lifted the same way it is declared: by a decision made by the executive powers published in the Official Gazette. Matelly estimates that "everything indicates that the executive authorities will prolong the state of emergency until Thursday [November 19], at least." The first measure, that bans public gatherings to avoid large crowds and diverts security forces towards priority missions, should end by then but other additional security measures may then be taken.

For more on the attacks in Paris, visit VICE News.