PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France on Tuesday announced that the declassification of secret archives more than 50 years old would be accelerated, a move that will facilitate access to documents related to the Algerian War — a controversial chapter of France’s history that authorities have long been reluctant to face.
A statement from the Élysée Palace said that starting Wednesday a new rule would “significantly shorten the time required for the declassification procedure” in order to “encourage respect for historical truth.”
Mr. Macron has recently taken a series of steps to lift the veil on France’s colonial history in Algeria, a lasting trauma that continues to shape modern France. The change announced Tuesday was intended to respond to growing complaints from historians and archivists about strict government instructions for declassifying archives.
2011 government requirement that every document classified “secret” or “top secret” be formally declassified before being made public. That contradicts a 2008 law that calls for the immediate release of secret documents 50 years after they were produced.
The 2011 instruction had been loosely enforced, or even ignored, by archivists in recent years. But the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security, a powerful unit inside the prime minister’s office, started enforcing the rules last year.
Tens of thousands of once-public documents were subsequently resealed, impeding historical research and reimposing secrecy on information that had been previously revealed.
Robert O. Paxton, an American historian who revealed French authorities’ collaboration with Nazi Germany, had challenged the 2011 requirement before France’s supreme court.
Ms. Branche, who is leading the legal fight, said the group would keep up its challenge despite Mr. Macron’s announcement on Tuesday.
It is unclear what motivated the effort to enforce the declassification policy last year. But Mr. Macron’s desire to pull back the curtain on the Algerian War has ruffled some feathers in the military, which oversees most archives relating to defense matters.
Fabrice Riceputi, a historian of the Algerian War, said that the declassification policy had led to some absurd situations.