Executive summary

AuthorLatraverse, Sophie
1. Introduction
The key to the French legal approach to racism and discrimination is the abstract,
universalist, formal concept of equality, enshrined in a range of instruments, including the
Constitutions of 1946 and 1958. As a result, the legal framework has developed along two
complementary lines: the condemnation of inequality based on ‘origin’, on the one hand,
and the parallel refusal to use the criteria of ‘origin’ for policy and administrative purposes,
even in combating discrimination (confirmed by the Constitutional Council) , on the other.
In 2007, for the first time, the Constitutional Council explicitly endorsed the refusal by
French doctrine to recognise the concepts of ethnic origin or race as legal, administrative
or res earch categories on the basis of which differential treatment could be evaluated.1
Any approach relating to origin must be based on objective indications, such as nationality
of parents and grandparents, in order to objectivise the construction of comparative
Although there is no constitutional text expressly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of
age, disability, health or sexual orientation, according to the Constitutional Council the list
of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Constitution is an open one. However, the
social chamber of the Court of Cassation held in a decision of 15 November 2017,2 in a
case relating to the extent of compensation for discrimination on the ground of age, that
non-discrimination on the ground of age did not constitute a fundamental right and
freedom protected by the French Constitution. This position has not been decided on by
the Conseil d’État or the Constitutional Council.
The Constitutional C ouncil has not yet explicitly protected sexual orientation as a ground
of prohibited discrimination covered by the Constitution; rather, it has referred the issue
of equal treatment to Parliament.3
The pra ctising Muslim community in France in 2019 is estimated by the Observatory of
Secularism to represent 3 % of the population,4 persons born outside Europe represent
6.4 % of the population and persons with at least one parent of foreign descent represent
11.2 % of the population.5
Around 95 % of Roma in France are French citizens, designated in the law as Trav ellers,6
who represent approximately 700 000 people. Foreign Roma are mostly migrants from
Romania and Bulgaria and are estimated to number 20 000.7 The problems they experience
and their relations with public services are very different. Historically, all French citizens
who pursue a travelling way of life (including French Roma and non-Roma) had a specific
legal and administrative status. It was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional
1 Constitutional Council, 2007-557, 15 November 2007, available at: http://www.conseil-
2 Court of Cassation, social chamber, No. 16-14.281, 15 November 2017, available at:
3 Constitutional Council QPC No. 2010-39, 6 October 2010, available at: https://www.conseil-
4 Observatory of Secularism (2020), Chiffres-clefs, (Key numbers) January 2020, available at :
5 Carcillo, S., Valfort, A-M (2018), Les discriminations au travail, Presses de Sciences Po.
6 In France, the Law and administrative categories do not refer to the term Roma but names French Roma as
Travellers (gens du voyage).
7 Auditor General (2012) L’accueil et l’accompagnement des gens du voyage (Accommodation and support for
Travellers), available at: http://www.gouvernement.fr/sites/default/files/contenu/piece-

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