Sunday, January 13, 2008

Modernité à la Sarkozy

To ensure that the French Constitution is in sync with the times and well equipped to resolve the “philosophical, moral and ethical problems posed by modernity”, President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) proposes to amend it.
In addition to constitutionalizing the ban on reproductive cloning and on selling the human body or its parts for scientific purposes, Sarkozy would like to enable integration through positive discrimination. As I explained here, simply recognizing minorities as such runs counter to the universalist constitutional language that makes France a theoretically colorblind republic. Sarkozy would also like to extend the concept of “parity” to the socio-economic sphere. As I noted during the runup to the French presidential elections last May, legally guaranteed gender equality was an important issue. The preamble to the 1946 French Constitution declares that the “in all areas, the law guarantees women rights equal to those of men”. Reality, however, lags far behind lofty principle. Thus in 1999, then prime minister Lionel Jospin launched a constitutional reform to require election “parity”: political parties must field an equal number of women and men as candidates in regional, municipal (in communities with at least 3500 inhabitants), senate (on a proportional basis) and European elections. Sarkozy would extend parity to elections to comités d’entreprise (companies with at least 50 employees are required to organize a committee to represent the employees vis-à-vis the employer), to the Conseil des prud’hommes (an institution established to resolve individual disputes between employees and their employers) and on juries that judge candidates for civil service positions.
Would that his criminal justice policies were as forward looking: following last year’s highly publicized kidnapping of a 5-year-old boy by a pedophile just released from prison, the Sarkozy government tabled a bill providing for lifelong detention of persons convicted of certain crimes involving minors under 15 years of age. Not a sentence of life imprisonment, but a prison term corresponding to the offense followed by lifelong internment in a “socio-medico-legal” institution. The bill was then amended to extend the law to include all minors, up to 18 years of age, and all perpetrators sentenced to at least 15 years in prison for “crimes aggravés” (crimes committed with aggravating circs). After the recent murder of a young woman by a repeat offender, the bill was amended to apply immediately to both repeat offenders and persons convicted once for multiple commissions of a crime on the list (rape of a minor, for example). The Assemblée nationale just adopted the bill in its harshest form. Despite the “immediate” clause, however, continued detention is only possible if reexamination of the prisoner’s “situation” was ordered when s/he was convicted. If the bill becomes law in its current form, it won’t have any real effect for at least 15 years, at which point it could result in the lifelong internment of 30-50 persons who have served their criminal sentences but who continue to be held because they’re considered dangerous.
Progression, regression, modernité à la Sarko.

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