Olivier Cadic, senator for the French abroad, tells Oliver Rowland why he has also been helping the British in France – and how he is surprised that Britons abroad have no such dedicated representation.
Mr Cadic was formerly a councillor on the Assembly of the French Abroad, a consultative body which has one or more elected representatives for each French consulate (including nine in London), elected by French people registered with that consulate. It meets twice a year in Paris and he sat on it from 2006-2014.
“It is these representatives who together elect the senators for the French abroad,” he said. “Now I sit in the Senate and I represent the French across the whole world.
Unlike the MPs for the French abroad you don’t represent a part of the world?
No, I’ve just come back from Madagascar, where I was working on cases of French people being kidnapped and murdered there – this year alone eight kidnappings and four murders. I met the prime minister and we set the objective that they will name a judge to be in charge of these cases, so we have a contact point for our judge who is following these dossiers.
It’s one example. I think of the British academic doing political research who recently was condemned to life imprisonment in the UAE on accusations of spying. It’s the kind of case a British counterpart might have helped with – if they existed.
Another example happened in the Dominican Republic, where French pilots had been arrested, supposedly with drugs in the plane. I went to the trial and helped the families. Diplomats are there to avoid disputes with the local authorities and have limits, whereas a politician, will generally be listened to and can do something extra.
So it is very hands-on?
Absolutely, and we see at the moment the difference with the British – they just have to cope on their own.
Apart from being a senator, you are an entrepreneur?
I used to have a business in electronics and the internet, but I sold up. Now I have a publishing business called Cinebook – for example, Lucky Luke comic books in English, that’s me. I’m the world’s biggest buyer of rights of cartoon books, which I translate to English and sell worldwide.
How do you divide up your time?
It’s not complicated – 40% of my time, four nights out of ten, I’m in Paris at the Senate, three nights I’m in England, and three in the rest of the world; last week I was in Mauritius and Madagascar. Next I’ll be in Lithuania and then Washington.
Why did you want the job?
I was asked to go for it. I’d given a lot of support to French businesspeople in the UK, and a senator told me I would make a good politician.
How does the role differ from the MPs’?
Well for a start we sit in different houses, and the fact we have both makes sure the French abroad are represented at all stages of a law. There are as many French people abroad as in the DOM-TOMs and they have specific concerns. It helps them to stay in touch with French politics, to be involved and have their rights defended and to make sure their issues are taken into account, whether on tax, social security etc.
Can you give examples of issues?
Senators for the French abroad managed to remove the social charges on property incomes of the French abroad in the EU. We also gained a lot for the organisation of French education abroad and we obtained a special social security caisse for expatriates. I work to create chambers of commerce, for example a France-Mozambique one; I support creating French schools and Alliances Françaises abroad and worked to support the transfer of a French medical centre to Vietnam.
I helped find a solution for retirees in America whose French banks didn’t want problems with the American authorities so stopped sending their pensions.
Do you see speaking out for the British in France as an extension of this?
Yes. I realised when Brexit happened and I started doing talks to EU citizens abroad in the UK that all the other nationalities didn’t have such representatives and in a way I was representing everyone.
And I consider that defending the British of France is in a way an extension of defending the French of the UK. It’s the other side of the coin. It doesn’t seem right to me not to also think about them. Their fates are linked and I found it natural to speak for both.
Whatever decisions the British take with regard to the French in the UK, even if they were to be very tough on them, I will ask that there are better conditions for Britons in France. They weren’t responsible for the situation and are victims of it like us and it’s not fair to treat them poorly. It would honour us to maintain all their rights.
The idea of dedicated MPs for Britons abroad is supported by the Lib Dems, but the government thinks expatriates should maintain a link with their old constituencies. But those MPs do not necessarily understand their issues...
No they don’t know what they are at all. What it means is that for the government you don’t exist, as British expatriates. But they are conservatives with a small C, and I think the current Labour Party is as well.
To me it’s a real source of pride to have this representative role because other countries see us as an example. In the Tunisian assembly now they have MPs representing Tunisians in France. But there’s really no representation at all for British people abroad, which I find incredible.
The British have an insular view and if you’re not on the island anymore it’s over.
There’s not even any representation of expatriates at the embassy in France; I find it unbelievable. It’s as if they just lose their rights - which they do in fact, since after 15 years they don’t even have a right to vote. It’s extraordinary.
Note: There are around 2 million French people living outside of France. Around 5 million British people live out of the UK (2 million of whom live in EU countries).