Sports events, SMS alerts and ‘cool maps’ – How France plans to deal with heatwaves

Heatwaves in France will become more frequent, more intense and longer in the summers to come as the climate crisis worsens - the French government has now produced its first plan to tackle the effects of prolonged heatwaves.

Sports events, SMS alerts and 'cool maps' - How France plans to deal with heatwaves
Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP

One effect of the heating of the planet is hotter summers in Europe – the summer of 2022 was the hottest ever recorded in France – and heatwaves that are both more frequent and more intense.

As well as headline-grabbing top temperatures – France recorded its highest ever temperature of 45.9C in 2019 and Paris is predicted to record a temperature of 50C before 2050 – heatwaves are also getting longer with more ‘tropical nights’, where the temperature does not drop below 20C. 

Heatwaves represent a major threat to health and even life, and although cities already have their own emergency plans that are deployed once the temperature spikes, now the government has unveiled its first nationwide plan to deal with the effects of vagues de chaleur.

‘Cool maps’ for towns and cities

Towns and cities are on average 2C-3C hotter than the surrounding area and during heatwaves this can rise to 10C hotter. The ‘heat sink effect’ is due to a combination of factors such as lack of green spaces, materials such as concrete and bitumen that reflect heat and human activity that produces heat (from cars to air conditioners).

The government’s plan requires all préfectures to create a map of the îlots de fraîcheur in their town – these ‘cool spots’ include shaded areas, air-conditioned or cooled buildings that are open to the public and brumisateurs (cool foggers). The maps should also include drinking water fountains.

Many cities already do this as part of their heatwave emergency plans, but these cool maps will now become generalised across France.

READ ALSO How Paris plans to keep people cool this summer – and beyond

SMS alerts for heatwaves

These aren’t just text messages telling you that it’s hot – you could stick your head out of the window and get that information. The SMS alerts will be sent to people who are entering an area that is on a heatwave alert and will tell them of any specific risks – such as wildfires – as well as health advice and best practice for public spaces such as airports and train stations.

Messages on how to stay safe in the heat will also be broadcast on public transport.

Electricity grid surveillance

One of the biggest risks during a heatwave is a power outage – as electricity networks in France were simply not designed with such long and intense heatwaves or periods of drought in mind.

Power outages in heatwaves pose a major risk to life, since they would knock out air-conditioning and prolonged blackouts can also affect the drinking water supply. 

The grid operator Enedis and network provider RTE will be stepping up surveillance of the grid and deploying emergency teams during periods of heatwave and drought to avoid power cuts.

School inspections

School classrooms are an increasing worry in the summer, since many school buildings – especially in northern France – were not built with heat in mind. Schools are of course on holiday in July and August but rising temperatures and the extension of heatwave periods mean that May, June and September are increasingly uncomfortable in the many schools where classroom temperatures can be 4C-8C hotter than outside.

“When it’s 34C outside, the temperature in a school or office with bay windows directly exposed to the sun’s rays can rise, depending on the region, to 38C or even 42C,” Serge Chalmandrier, head of engineering and ventilation solutions at Kingspan, told Le Parisien.

The government has tasked local education authorities with carrying out annual inspections of all schools focusing on temperature and measures taken to keep classrooms cool.

Schools will also be required to have at least one large, cooled space available for students to take exams in.

“In order to keep exam postponements in hot weather to a minimum, a check will also be carried out every year to verify the presence of cooled rooms and premises large enough and available to host the brevet and bac exams. If necessary, credits can be set aside for their rental,” states the environment ministry’s plan.

Workplace inspections

While working in a hot office can be uncomfortable during a heatwave, working outdoors in extreme heat can be life-threatening.

France’s labour inspectors will step up inspections of workplaces where staff work outdoors during heatwave periods, and offer companies guidance on keeping their staff safe. Hotter summers have seen farms and vineyards adopt variable working hours during harvest time, with workers starting in the early hours of the morning to maximise the cooler periods and stopping work when the day gets hot.

READ ALSO Can your boss force you to come into work during a heatwave?

Health checks

Young people doing their service national universel (national service) will be used to check in on vulnerable people such as the elderly and encourage them to subscribe to the ‘risk register’ of people who receive regular checks and health advice during heatwaves.

La Poste is also getting involved and postal workers will be distributing advice about staying safe during heatwaves.

Live animal transport bans

Many people would like to see live animal transports banned altogether on animal welfare grounds – the government’s plan doesn’t go that far, but it does ban road transport of animals between 1pm and 6pm – the hottest part of the day – during a heatwave period.

This affects road transport only for “live, vertebrate animals as part of economic activity”. It therefore affects cattle or pigs being transported for slaughter, for example, but would not affect horse-owners transporting their pet to a show. The rule comes into effect when a heatwave is declared by Météo France.

Sporting and cultural events register

Summer is peak time for festivals, fêtes and sporting events in France – but soaring temperatures mean that some are becoming uncomfortable or even dangerous for competitors/performers and spectators.

The government wants départements to create a register of all sporting and cultural events from mid-June, with local mayors submitting lists of events in their area to the préfecture.

When a heatwave is declared, the préfecture will summon event organisers and ask them to adapt their event to make sure it remains safe for attendees. If the heatwave is particularly extreme, or the event cannot be adapted, préfectures have the power to cancel.

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Can foreigners in France be called up for jury service?

Juries are used in the majority of criminal trials in France and can sometimes involve foreign jurors. Here's what you need to know.

Can foreigners in France be called up for jury service?

Can foreign residents in France be called up to be a jury?

In order to be called for jury duty, you must hold French citizenship, so foreign nationals in France who have gained French citizenship are eligible to be called up.

If you simply a resident in France with a valid residency permit you cannot be called for jury duty.

Aside from holding French nationality, there are some other criteria you must meet as well in order to be called up.

  • Be over 23-years-old;
  • Know how to read and write in French;
  • Have never been found guilty of a crime or délit (less serious, mid-level offense);
  • Not be under someone’s care and legal responsibility (sous tutelle) because of a physical or mental disability; 
  • Not be a civil servant stripped of their function;
  • Not be a member of government, parliamentarian, magistrate or member of the police, prisons authority or gendarmerie. 

Anyone who has a personal relationship (family, friends, romantic partners) to the accused, the plaintiff, their lawyers, court interpreters, witnesses or one of the magistrates, cannot serve as jurors. 

How good does your French need to be?

Although the Justice Ministry has not published guidelines as to what level of French jurors will require, Maître Sabine Haddad, a Paris-based lawyer, has written that if you believe you do not “master the French language”, you can request not to take up jury duty via a signed letter addressed to the court (a demande de dispense). 

It is assumed that the vast majority of jurors selected will speak French fluently, given that most of them will have been raised in France. And legal language can be complicated for French people as well as foreigners who have spent years living in the country. 

When would a jury be used?

In France there are two kinds of criminal courts.

Every département has a cours d’assises which is a criminal court dealing with serious crimes that can carry a sentence of more than 20 years in prison (like rape, murder and armed robbery). Jurors – or jurés, in French – work alongside professional magistrates during cours d’assises proceedings to decide whether the accused is guilty or not.

Other criminal offenses that can carry a sentence of between 15-20 years are judged in a kind of criminal courts known as a cour criminelle. No jurors are involved in these proceedings. 

How are jurors selected?

Jurors are randomly selected from the electoral list of the commune in which they live. If you have been chosen at this stage, you will be informed. 

Each commune sends a list of names the the départemental cour d’assises when requested. The court then removes profiles that don’t meet the eligibility requirements, have already served as a juror in the last five years, or who for other reasons are unfit to serve as a juror. 

A special commission then examines the demandes de dispense – or requests to avoid jury duty – from those chosen during the initial random selection. 

A second selection of 45 jurors is then made and those to have been named as jurors can then be called to preside over a session of the court. Each case normally features 6 first choice jurors and 9 back-up jurors who are once again selected at random the shortlist of 45. 

Is there any way to get out of jury duty?

If you don’t turn up to jury duty without a legitimate reason (motif légitime) you can be fined 3,750. 

To avoid jury duty, you must deliver a signed letter to the court explaining why. This letter is known as a demande de dispense and must be delivered to court before September 1st ideally. If not, you must attend the first day of the hearing and provide evidence as to why you cannot serve as a juror. 

Legitimate reasons include:

  • Being over 70-years-old;
  • No living in the département where the cour d’assises is located as your principal residence;
  • Having difficulties that will prevent you from attending court, such as serious illness, an ill child or deafness. 

As already mentioned, lawyers say you can also use non-mastery of the French language as an excuse. 

Do jurors get paid? 

The average jury duty lasts about 15 working days, during which you must remain available. 

If you work in the private sector, your contract is suspended for the duration of the court session – your employer has the obligation to provide you with a document that proves your salary and any further evidence that can demonstrate how you will be losing money during your leave (this can be used later to claim compensation). If you work in the public sector, you are automatically granted a leave of absence. 

The financial compensation you receive depends on whether you work in the private or public sector.

Private sector jurors receive a flat fee of €96.16 per day. If their employer decides to keep paying them while they are on jury duty, they can accumulate this fee alongside their normal salary. The fee counts towards a juror’s annual taxable income. 

If a private sector worker is not remunerated by their employer during jury duty, they are eligible for further compensation of up to €90.16 per day, alongside the initial €96.16. Both payments must be requested directly from the court

Public sector employees receive the €96.16 per day alongside their normal salary. 

You can also apply for money to cover costs of food, accommodation and transport while you are on jury duty. The amount you will receive depends on a variety of factors including where you live and what mode of transport you use. A full guide is available here

Your employer has a legal obligation to let you complete jury duty. 

What is the role of a juror?

Jurors receive a small amount of training before presiding over a case – or more often than not, multiple cases during a single court session. The court president and prosecutor will explain your responsibilities and you will also be asked to watch a short film. Often, jurors will be offered the chance to visit a prison too. 

When the trial begins, you will be asked to sit in on hearings and listen to deliberations from the judges. After this, you will take part in secret votes alongside other jurors and the magistrates. The first vote is on whether or not the suspect is guilty and the second is on the severity of the sentence. 

How you vote is entirely up to you. 

Jurors are expected to be attentive, impartial and discrete. You are not supposed to talk about the case with people outside the courtroom. And you must not reveal any final decision before the day of sentencing – doing so could land you with a €15,000 fine and a year in prison.