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Debate: Should all foreigners in France have vote in local elections?

We speak to a French MP and a city mayor who find themselves on either side of this debate

Only French and other European Union citizens living in France have the right to vote in France’s municipal elections Pic: Victor Joly / Shutterstock

A French MP for the governing Renaissance (formerly LREM) party tabled a draft bill before parliament broke up for the summer calling on all foreigners in France to have the right to vote in the municipal elections (élections municipales). 

Currently, only French and other European Union citizens living in France have the right to vote in these elections, as well as the European Parliament elections. EU nationals cannot vote in the legislative or presidential elections. 

Sacha Houlié tabled the bill and said that he would bring it up for debate with his fellow MPs after the summer. A spokesperson for Mr Houlié told The Connexion on Tuesday (September 6) that MPs have still not fully returned after the summer so this has not yet happened. 

Municipal elections in France allow for city councillors (conseillers municipaux) to be elected in each commune of the country. It is these councillors who then elect the commune’s mayor. The next municipal elections will take place in 2024. 

Read more: French MP supports non-EU foreigners voting in municipal elections

To understand the debate more, we spoke to two politicians with opposing views. 

Louis Boyard, an MP in Val-de-Marne’s third constituency for La France Insoumise is in favour of the proposition. 

Arnaud Robinet, who has been the mayor of Reims (Marne) since 2014, is against it. 

Louis Boyard

Why are you in favour of the right for all foreigners in France to vote in the municipal elections? 

It is a historic promise of France’s left-wing parties. It is a promise that [former French president] François Hollande made and that he did not uphold. And so, historically, it is a promise that we must uphold.

Also, because we have a situation that is absolutely absurd where we have people who have lived in France for 30 or 40 years, who work in France and pay their taxes, and who cannot but who do not get a word to say about the politics in the country they live in. 

As you said, this idea has been proposed before. Why was it not successful in the past and why is now a good moment to bring it back?

Because there was a lack of political courage to adopt this. In France, for some people, being French should be a privilege that brings other privileges. People on the right do not want to back this. 

Also because there is a mistrust of foreigners in France. There are 89 MPS from the [far-right] Rassemblement National in parliament – that is already proof of the problem that some parts of the French population have with foreigners. 

Even the word ‘foreigner’ shows what France, sometimes, thinks of people who do not have the nationality. 

The people who are against this proposition, are they, in your opinion, also generally against immigration and foreigners in France?

In general, yes. It is usually the people who have trouble imagining a foreigner as a citizen – a person who is their equal. 

In France we have adopted the [United Nations’ international document] the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The most important is that it is ‘universal’, that everyone has rights. But in France we do not give this right to everyone. I find that paradoxical. 

What do you think about the situation that, for example, someone from an EU country living in France for just a few months can vote in the municipal elections, but someone from, for example, the UK or US living in France for 20 years cannot?

It is quite strange. There is also the historic question. Whether we like it or not, the history of France and Algeria is linked. You have people who are Algerian but who have a long history with France and I think it is important to stress this, a history that is often painful. 

What I want to say is that, why is it that we open the right to vote to citizens from countries in which we share a rather limited history while with citizens from other countries with which we have a long and often painful history, they do not have this right?

So, even in terms of historical factors, it is absurd. 

Should foreigners have to meet certain conditions before being given the right to vote in the municipal elections?

It is necessary to look at the details, of course. It’s true that it is not a small proposition. It is important that there is a debate. For me it is important that the debate is based on this: all humans should be treated equally. 

Should all foreigners in France have the right to also vote in the presidential or legislative elections too?

Why not? You know, I am 22 years old. During the campaign for the legislatures I was out canvassing and speaking to people. I met some who were 60 years old and I spoke to them and I asked if they would vote for me. And one said, ‘I have been in France for 40 years, and I still do not have the right to vote’.
And I said, ‘it has been 21 years that I have been in France, and I on the other hand have the right to stand for election’. 

He is more French than I am. 

Arnaud Robinet

Why are you against the right for all foreigners in France to vote in the municipal elections? 

It amounts to eliminating a fundamental element of French citizenship. To have the right to vote in France, you have to be a citizen, to be a citizen, you have to be of French nationality. 

This is not something that has been built overnight. It was a long road before the French, and in particular those closest to us, the French women, could get this full and complete citizenship. 

Voting is a precious right. It seems normal that it should be correlated with what should be the most precious to us: our nationality.

Integration [into France] is a process that should ultimately lead to obtaining nationality and therefore the possibility of voting. Those who want to reverse this relationship by giving the right to vote on the pretext of better integration are creating a shortcut that seems to me more dangerous than anything else. 

Perhaps voting for many French people, born French to French parents, is no longer meaningful enough, but anyone who has been to the ceremonies organised by the prefectures to mark a person’s entry into French citizenship will have seen that for the majority of foreigners residing in France who are going through the process of becoming French, the right to vote is the national prerogative that they hold most dear.

For those who choose to become French and obtain nationality in order to become citizens, selling off the right to vote to all would de facto [make gaining nationality] lose its value.    

Why do you think the MP Sacha Houlié has decided to put forward this proposition now? 

The subject comes up regularly. For some, it is an easy way of showing that they are a so-called modern person and it is a cheap way to make the news. On the contrary, I see it as a clear step backwards.

Why do you think that an American, for example, who has lived in France for 10 years, should not participate in the election of municipal councillors?

No, if he wants to vote in France, he must be French. Otherwise what is the basis [of voting]? Behind this claim, we come to justify this participation by that of the person’s tax contribution? There is no longer any census suffrage and that's a good thing.

How do you imagine the situation if this proposal were to be adopted? Would France be threatened?

A certain conception of nationality would indeed be threatened, that of citizenship as the foundation of democracy. Moreover, in certain territories where, as we know, there are particularly well-represented communities, the question of the influence of votes on the ballot would inevitably be raised. 

Related articles

‘As a foreigner I cannot vote but a French person is voting for me’

France to develop ‘more demanding immigrant integration process’

Legislative elections: what are the roles and duties of French MPs?

How I went about applying for French citizenship’

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