French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday scrapped contested constitutional reforms he proposed after the Paris attacks, in an embarrassing U-turn for his already beleaguered government.
The reforms included a plan to strip convicted terrorists of their French nationality which led to howls of protests from the left flank of Hollande’s Socialist party and the resignation of his justice minister.
Hollande also wanted to enshrine in the constitution a state of emergency adopted after the November 13 attacks on the French capital, in which suicide bombers and gunmen from the Islamic State group killed 130 people.
But four months after both houses of parliament stood together to sing the “Marseillaise” national anthem, the lower house National Assembly and opposition-dominated Senate failed to agree on the text.
“A compromise appears out of reach on the stripping of terrorists’ nationality,” Hollande said.
“I also note that a section of the opposition is hostile to any constitutional revision. I deeply regret this attitude,” the president said in a brief televised statement.
“I have decided to close the constitutional debate (but) I will not deviate from the commitments I have taken... to ensure the security of our country.”
Hollande’s move to drop the reform comes as authorities in Europe face increasing criticism over laxism and security failings in the face of the growing jihadist threat.
Links have emerged between the IS cell which attacked Paris and the suicide bombers who struck Brussels last week, killing 32 people.
“The threat remains higher than ever,” said Hollande.
“Islamist terrorism has declared war against us, against France, Europe, the entire world.”
‘A historical failure’
The failure to convince all political parties to fall behind the reforms will deal a stinging blow to Hollande, who is hoping to run for re-election in presidential polls next year.
The leader of the far-right National Front (FN) Marine Le Pen said Hollande’s decision to scrap the constitutional reform was “a historical failure”.
“Francois Hollande fails to have his own words taken seriously. He and his government are the only ones responsible for this failure,” Le Pen said.
However Hollande’s Socialist party said the opposition was responsible for the “sad spectacle”.
“We apologise to the French people. We were not able to convince the right in general... to reinforce our law in the fight against terrorism,” said party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis.
Hollande was France’s most unpopular leader in modern history when Paris suffered its first terror attack of 2015, when gunmen killed 17 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and at a Jewish supermarket in January.
His popularity briefly rose over his handling of those attacks, but not for long.
A sense of political unity quickly soured after the November attacks, and turned to blame-trading and infighting among Socialists who accused Hollande of shifting to the right with his hardline response.
Initially it was those within his own party who were most opposed to the plan to strip citizenship from convicted jihadists born in France who hold a second passport.
Those against it argued it would create two categories of French citizens, a sensitive issue in a country where millions of immigrant origins hold two passports.
Polls showed the majority of terror-weary French people supported the plan, but former justice minister Christiane Taubira was so opposed to the measure that she resigned.
The right and far-right initially praised the measure, until the government amended the measure to remove any mention of dual nationality.
This sparked criticism over the potential creation of stateless citizens.
To be adopted, the text of a constitutional amendment must be accepted in identical terms by both houses of parliament, but the Senate restored the mention of dual nationality, effectively sinking the reform.
While some of those who attacked France have held Moroccan or Algerian nationality, others are full French citizens such as Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam who was arrested two weeks ago.