British residents in France, as citizens of the European Union, are entitled to vote - and stand as candidates - in European and municipal (local) elections. British nationals can become councillors of their local commune but cannot stand for mayor without first obtaining French nationality. There are currently 16 British and 188 nationals of other EU countries acting as councillors in French communes. The provision that all EU nationals can vote and stand in local elections was introduced by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which aimed to create the basis of a European citizenship at a grass roots level.
The treaty addressed the problem of the ‘democratic deficit’, perceived by many as one of the most important issues in the successful development of the European Union. The European elections of 1999 and the municipal elections of 2001 represented the first opportunity for non-French EU residents in France to vote. Since then, the numbers of British nationals living in France has increased considerably. Most of these are not aware of their new rights to vote or stand as councillors or how to become registered to vote. The next municipal elections take place in March 2008. Registration is open now for the electoral lists that will give EU residents eligibility to vote.
The municipality in France is based on the commune, which is the smallest territorial unit of administration and led by the mayor. There are 36,571 communes in Metropolitan France alone. Many of these are very small, with less than 100 voters.
To British people they may seem rather like the English Parish council, at least in their proximity to the local population. However the mayor, as leader of the commune, is paid and wields much greater power and influence than the largely symbolic role of mayors in British councils.
Register on list by end of December
In order to register on the electoral list - known as a “supplementary list” for EU residents - readers should go to their local mairie and obtain an application form. This must be submitted before December 31. To qualify for registration, residents must be able to prove their nationality (a passport is adequate), and place of residence (a tax bill or utilities bill should suffice).
Those with second homes in France are not eligible to vote in these elections, and the mayor may therefore ask for evidence of six months of residence. The forms can be obtained online at www.interieur.gouv.fr. Go to the green area entitled à votre service, follow les élections then comment voter. Click l’inscription des ressortissants de l’Union Européenne, where you will find an explanation of your rights, in French, and the form to download under elections municipales.