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New move to open up local voting to all in France

MPs to debate this autumn on letting non-EU citizens vote in local French elections

New move to open up local voting in France Pic: vchal / Shutterstock

Could the post-Brexit loss of local election voting rights for more than 100,000 Britons sway France into opening up voting to non-EU residents?

Co-president of pro-EU party Volt France Sven Franck believes it might. 

“It’s harder and harder to justify having two tiers of citizens,” he said.

The debate has resurfaced after MP Sacha Houlié proposed a law to grant local votes to all resident foreigners. MPs are to debate it this autumn. 

Historic beginnings 

It is the latest in a long line of such initiatives, since a constitution of June 24, 1793, called for voting rights at all levels for every resident. 

Local election voting was also supported by presidents Mitterrand, Sarkozy and Hol­lande but never put into action.Mr Houlié (Renais­sance coalition) says it has been a “long and beautiful fight” to obtain better rights for foreigners, including local election voting for EU citizens following 1992’s Maas­tricht Treaty. A 2020 poll found 62% of the French in favour of opening local voting to all.

The idea has been welcomed by many on the left and by campaigners such as Ligue des droits de l’Homme, which said: “France must not remain one of the last EU countries to refuse the right to vote in local elections to part of the foreign population.” 

It said a local vote can affirm a kind of ‘citizenship of residency’ which would benefit community relations. 

However, sources close to Interior Mini­ster Gérald Darmanin told AFP he was “firmly opposed”, though he has said immigration issues will be discussed in parliament next month. Across Europe, 13 countries offer local voting to all residents and three to those from countries with which they have reciprocal agreements. Ten EU countries allow it only to EU citizens.

The UK’s approach

The UK now allows it to Com­monwealth citizens and EU citizens living there before Brexit, plus newcomer EU citizens from countries it has signed agreements with, such as Spain and Portugal.

Mr Franck said one issue is that it would require a change to the constitution, which is more complex than an ordinary law. 

The Senate has a right-wing majority, which “makes things more complicated to get it through”, he said. 

“For me, it’s not something extraordinary, since quite a few EU countries offer it. We move around more now and society is more of a mixture. If voting systems remain nationality-

based, they become less representative.” He said he does not think it is useful to distinguish between EU citizens and other foreigners. “What’s the difference between a German who has lived here 30 years and a Briton or Moroccan who has lived here 30 years?”

He said local elections are a good start due to local councils’ “wide-ranging competences”, and their decisions are often “those you feel the most”.

Volt supports, as a long-term goal, votes at all levels for people living and paying taxes in France for a certain period of time. “I’m German, so can’t vote in national elections or stand as a mayor, even though I’ve paid my taxes for years,” he said.

“You have to keep up the pressure…”

He thinks the current government might be too conservative to pursue the idea. “At some point, it will work. You have to keep up the pressure and eventually the situation will change.

“Britons are starting to be a group to be reckoned with due to their numbers so that can play a role [165,400 applied for residency by the end of 2021]. 

“It could also be a good gesture to the UK, for France to tackle this topic. Maybe Britons could be the factor that tips the whole idea forward.”

Among opponents to the plan is Reims mayor Arnaud Robinet, who told The Connexion that voting is a fundamental and “precious” part of French 

citizenship and the best way for foreigners to integrate is to seek citizenship. “It seems dangerous to seek to invert this by giving the right to vote on the pretext of better integration.”

He added that “giving it away” would devalue the right to vote in the eyes of those who had sought French citizenship.

Related articles

French MP supports non EU foreigners voting in municipal elections 

Johnson’s exit could stall votes for life law for Britons in France 

Brexit made Scottish independence and EU re-entry more likely 

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