French President Emmanuel Macron’s new government presented a security bill Thursday to beef up police powers amid extremist threats to Europe.
Macron insists the bill discussed at a Cabinet meeting won’t infringe on freedoms, but rights groups fear France is heading for a permanent state of emergency.
His government is seeking to extend France’s existing state of emergency through Nov. 1, the time it will take the new security bill to pass through parliament. The current expiration date for the state of emergency is July 15. It would be the sixth extension of the measure since deadly attacks by extremists in Paris in November 2015.
The move Thursday comes days after an attacker drove a car carrying explosives into a police convoy on Paris’ busy Champs-Elysees avenue, the latest of several small-scale attacks on European cities.
“The threat is long-lasting,” Macron told several European newspapers in interviews published Thursday. “So we must organize ourselves for the long-term” instead of relying on emergency security measures.
The bill would allow authorities to place people posing “a particularly serious threat” under house arrest. They would still be allowed to move within a specific area, so they could have a family and a job.
The draft law would also ease conditions for state authorities to conduct counterterror raids on condition they are authorized and supervised by a judge.
Authorities could decide to close places of worship for up to six months if comments deemed to incite terrorism are made from those places. The bill also includes measures to ensure better security at big sports and cultural events.
“This is not a permanent state of emergency,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who is in charge of the bill, said on Europe 1 radio. “Every time we try to take precautions so that individual freedoms are respected.”
Some human rights organizations had called on the government to drop the bill because of concerns over civil liberties.
New tensions, meanwhile, arose Thursday with Macron’s office on media access.
Press photographers covering the Cabinet meeting refused to take pictures of the ministers entering the Elysee presidential palace, one day after a government reshuffling, to protest restrictions on their access to the new government’s official photo.
They were finally allowed to go to the site but no video camera was authorized.The Elysee press office says it doesn’t want any picture of the backstage to be made.
At the end of the Cabinet meeting, writers were banned from the Elysee courtyard — only video journalists and photographers were allowed. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said “that’s only this week, we wanted to make images.”
He suggested the press would be allowed to attend the end of future Cabinet meetings and question ministers in the Elysee courtyard starting next week.
After the first Cabinet meeting following Macron’s election last month, more than 20 French media organizations signed an open letter to the French president to express their concerns about restrictions on coverage.