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France: Parliamentary Commission Begins Investigating Government Response to Coronavirus

(June 22, 2020) On June 2, 2020, a special commission of the National Assembly, one of two chambers of the French Parliament, began investigating the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The creation of this special commission was decided on March 17, 2020, and organized on March 24. The commission was meant to operate in two distinct phases. Initially, its role was restricted to monitoring the government’s response to the pandemic during the state of health emergency that was declared on March 23. On June 2, however, its prerogatives expanded to become a full investigatory commission to study all aspects of the “impact, management, and consequences of the coronavirus epidemic.” It will work for a period of six months, during which it will examine “health safety, how the health crisis was handled and the adaptation of the healthcare system, territorial organization during the crisis, the strategy to ease restrictions, the solutions adopted in mainland France and in the overseas territories, and the economic and budgetary consequences of the crisis.”

This commission was formed in accordance with article 6 of the Ordinance No. 58-1100 of 17 November 1958 Regarding the Functioning of the Parliamentary Assemblies (as amended). It is made up of 30 members, with the National Assembly’s eight main political groups represented proportionally. The commission’s president is from the majority party, while the rapporteur is from one of the principal opposition parties. The commission has a right to access any government documents unless they are classified documents regarding national security and foreign relations or requesting the document would infringe upon judicial independence. Witnesses summoned before the commission must testify under oath or risk up to two years in jail and a fine of up to 7,500 euros (approximately US$8,470).

The commission will meet by teleconference at least once a week. Among the issues that it plans to investigate are the management of France’s stock of face masks, its testing strategy, the care provided in assisted living facilities for the elderly, and the economic and budgetary impact of the crisis. Eric Ciotti, the rapporteur, has stated that the commission would look into alleged mistakes by the government, such as “the refusal to shut down the borders, the authorization of the Lyon-Turin [soccer] match, the contradictory messages, [and] the counter-truths regarding face masks.” In response to these criticisms, President Emmanuel Macron described as “irresponsible” those who “already seek to put [the government] on trial when we have not yet won the war.” The president of the National Assembly warned that the investigatory commission should not be “an inquisition tribunal” but rather an effort to understand the decision processes that ended up causing certain deficiencies.