A UK-France deal on driving licence exchange is not essential for UK licences to be swapped, a leading French driving law specialist has told The Connexion.
Paris avocat Rémy Josseaume said legal precedent in rulings by France’s top administrative court le Conseil d’Etat shows that a deal on exchange is found to exist de facto if the other country allows residents there to exchange French licences.
This is currently the case for those using French and other European licences in the UK. The UK also allows holders of European licences to continue using them until they expire, or until aged 70.
At present, holders of UK licences in France are not able to exchange them for a French licence since January 1, 2021 because UK-France talks are still ongoing with regard to a deal on recognition/exchange of each others’ licences.
No explanation of why the talks are taking so long has been given. The UK now has agreements with all EU states apart from France, Spain and Italy.
In mid-May more than 70 readers told The Connexion in a poll they already cannot drive as their UK licences have expired.
France has stated that valid UK licences that were being used in France last year will be accepted until the end of this year, and newcomers’ licences will be accepted for one year. This complies with France’s standard rule for non-EU licences, after which holders must exchange – if a reciprocal exchange deal exists with the country – or take a French driving test.
However Mr Josseaume said this is not strictly true, as there have been exceptions before.
“Essentially, those driving in France with a non-EU licence have a year, then either there is an exchange deal, or no deal, but in which case you need to see with the country in question if they accept French licences.
“In those cases, according to the precedent in the Conseil d’Etat, exchange should be possible.
“The Conseil says that if there’s no written deal, you look at the other country’s policies, and if they permit exchange then there is de facto a deal in place.
“It was ruled on in the past where France said, concerning certain countries, that there was no deal. And the Conseil said your list of deals is one thing, but there is also what is happening on the ground. If they recognise our licences, you should recognise theirs as well.”
However for this to be applied for UK licences someone concerned would have to take legal action for a judgement by the Conseil, he said.
In theory where an application for exchange of a UK licence was made online before the end of the transition period (December 31, 2020) requests are still being processed. However many Connexion readers are still waiting for their new French licences after applying last year, some up to a year or more ago (in contrast two reported receiving them within two months).
Mr Josseaume said there have been ongoing delays regarding driving licence procedures in France since the system was nationalised and went online for licence issue and renewal via ants.gouv.fr in 2017. Prior to this applications were on paper to local prefectures or sous-prefectures.
The system for exchange of foreign licences was also nationalised in 2017, but initially via a paper application to the CERT at Nantes prefecture. Exchange applications then transferred online to ants.gouv.fr in March last year. The CERT still checks the dossier before ANTS issues the licence document.
Mr Josseaume said: “I’ve been fighting with the French authorities over this for two years now. They didn’t put in place adequate technical systems and staffing to cope with the demand.
“Another factor is that when people had licences suspended for driving offences, they used to give it back to you after the period of the ban. Now a new licence has to be issued each time, so that added work to the ANTS agency and they are not managing to face up to the demand.
“Things are no better at the CERT; they are cannot cope with the large flow of requests for exchange and the technology that was supposed to help has just made things worse, with a bureaucracy that remains rather passive and doesn’t really have a culture of results.”
He said the problems cannot be blamed on Covid because “they have existed from the start”.
“It is just French bureaucracy,” he said. “The idea was to avoid visits to the prefecture. The problem is that the right means and resources were not given.”
He said he is not aware of the reasons for the delays in reaching a UK-France licence agreement, but suspects it is “not seen as a priority”.
“I think the authorities are not in a rush. It should be relatively simple. It is not a country with which we have had no previous relations.”
He added: “I am not surprised though, because for everything that involves driving licences – apart from speed cameras and repression – is rather unintelligent and lethargic in France.”