Covid-19: in the name of the health emergency, a decline in freedoms to be re-examined

COVID-19: in the name of the health emergency, a decline in freedoms to be re-examined

In the name of the health imperative, the French accepted for two and a half years of pandemic a decline in their freedoms, exaggerated for some who now want to be able to better debate the subject.

Following the vote in Parliament, on August 1, the exceptional legal frameworks – state of emergency, management of the health crisis – which had been decided in the face of the health disaster will officially end.

After a last green light given on Saturday by the Constitutional Council, the government will only be able to impose a negative Covid screening test when boarding towards French territory and for overseas travel, in very specific cases.

Since March 2020, 13 laws have been passed by Parliament, giving the Prime Minister powers which have resulted in confinements, curfews, health and vaccination passes, etc.

“We had gradually gotten used to being a society of free individuals, we are a nation of united citizens”, launched the head of state Emmanuel Macron at the end of 2020 to justify these restrictions.

COVID-19 has been a “stress test” for the rule of law everywhere in the EU, analyzed a report from the National Assembly in October 2021.

“In Western Europe, France has been the country that has taken the toughest measures”, analyzes today Raul Magni-Berton, political scientist at Sciences-Po Grenoble.

By having a large majority, the government was able to easily impose decisions unilaterally and “it is not surprising that we abandon the state of emergency when (he) only enjoys a relative majority,” he said.

Even if it already endorsed the disappearance of the framework allowing the implementation of exceptional measures, the text finally voted by Parliament is very different from what the government had initially planned.

The right and left oppositions have rejected a possible health pass at the borders, from or to abroad, but also between France, Corsica and the overseas territories before a compromise between deputies, senators and government is finally found.

According to Pacôme Rupin, former LREM MP who opposed the vaccination pass, freedoms have been curtailed for too long: “at the start of the health crisis, it was normal to take very strong measures but, from the moment we knew the virus better, it was necessary to remove a certain number of constraints“.

– “Review clauses” –

“We had very little debate on the question of individual freedoms, clearly we put health first,” he observes.

Other deputies are more nuanced: “We have always tried to correct the measures according to the evolution of the health situation”, launches Sacha Houlié, President Renaissance (ex-LREM) of the Law Commission, recalling that a a number of amendments have been tabled to reopen the gauges or review the duration of closure of certain places.

But what will happen in the future? With LR deputy Philippe Gosselin, he submitted a report in December 2020 proposing reinforced “counter-powers” in the event of a major crisis.

“The temptation could be to want to put everyone under glass, it’s a serious risk that we must guard against,” said Philippe Gosselin.

The pressure having now “fallen”, he would like to launch a collective discussion on “what could serve as a framework for a future state of health or energy emergency”.

“Let’s decide now”, by providing for example review clauses, he pleads.

If “the state of emergency is useful and effective in dealing with a momentary disorder”, “in the long term, its use is deleterious”, judged in September 2021 the Council of State which suggests an automatic referral to the Constitutional Council on these laws.

On the side of scientists, who have helped guide government decisions, it is also time for recommendations.

For the Scientific Council, which will be replaced by a new structure, the decision on the level of circulation of the virus requiring a return of control measures “must be the subject of consultation in society”.

“We believe that these measures are necessary in certain cases but we also say that it is essential to know the opinion of the French on the subject”, recently declared one of its members, Professor Arnaud Fontanet. “We will not get out of this without a democratic debate”.

This is one of the regrets of Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, its president, when taking stock in Le Parisien of these long months of crisis: “we could have made decisions with the citizens”.

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