External Dimensions of the French Constitution

By John Bell

France lives with a tension between its internationalist and Universalist aspirations and the national preoccupations of its domestic politics. On the one hand, international treaties prevail over ordinary domestic legislation. On the other hand, constitutional control over treaties ensures that essential elements of “national sovereignty” are preserved. This concept is unclear and gives considerable scope for judicial interpretation. The treatment of foreigners by French law starts from the requirement to afford them basic minimum rights and freedoms, including the right to asylum. Constitutional rights are limited, but they are enlarged by the ordinary law, which the legislator is free to change. Basic civil liberties are well protected, but the legislator has a greater margin of appreciation in relation to social advantages and assistance justified by the constitutional principle of solidarity. Basic medical, income, and legal protection are assured, but beyond that the legislator is free to allocate benefits according to criteria related to the degree to which the foreigner is integrated into French society.

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