French president proposes expansion of his counterterrorism powers

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Thursday proposed a significant expansion of the authorities’ powers to fight terrorism, alarming civil liberties advocates even as defenders said the plans would help keep France’s citizens safe.

The proposal follows a series of attempted terror strikes in Paris and Brussels in recent weeks and several bloody attacks in Britain claimed by Islamic State-inspired militants. Those have prompted European leaders to search for new strategies to combat terrorism.

Before Macron’s election last month, he said he would seek new approaches. But he also cast himself as a friend of the Muslim world and said that France’s 132-year colonization of Algeria involved ‘‘crimes against humanity.’’ His far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, sought to paint him as weak on Islamist violence.


The changes proposed Thursday would wind down a state of emergency that gave security officials broad powers after the November 2015 Paris attacks, which claimed 130 lives. Some of those powers would be made permanent, including the ability to temporarily shutter places of worship that promote extremism and to conduct searches with fewer restrictions.

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The draft plan would also strip some oversight powers from judges and give security officials more latitude to act without judicial review.

‘‘I think we have achieved a good balance,’’ Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters after a meeting of the Cabinet during which he proposed the law. ‘‘The aim is to put an end to the state of emergency.’’

Both Macron and his predecessor, François Hollande, have sought to end the state of emergency, which has been extended several times since the Paris attacks. It is due to expire July 15, although Macron has asked for it to be prolonged until November. Both Hollande and Macron feared the political blowback if they ended the state of emergency only to face another terror strike, analysts say.

The threat was underlined Monday, when a 31-year-old man rammed a car packed with explosives and guns into a police van on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. He died in the attack, but no one else was injured.


Critics of the emergency powers say they have been applied indiscriminately. Even some analysts who say expanded powers could be useful in disrupting terror plots say the efficacy wears off as militants develop new tactics.

‘‘Emergency powers are effective because they are unusual,’’ said François Heisbourg, an analyst at the Foundation for Strategic Research. ‘‘If you make them usual, they cease to be effective.’’