Pressure grows to allow foreigners a vote in French local elections

Campaigners are joining forces to get non-EU residents’ rights back on the political agenda

A previous ‘symbolic vote’ event organised by campaign group ‘J’y suis, j’y vote’; (inset) Dr Mohamed Ben Said, president of the group

Campaigners for local election votes for foreign non-EU citizens living in France say it is important to get the issue off the political back-burner.

They are organising events in Paris on April 26-28, supported by groups including European Britons, a French association founded last year aiming to represent the British diaspora in the EU.

Foreigners’ voting rights has been an issue for many years

The vote des étrangers issue has come and gone over recent decades, with former president François Mitter­rand expressing support as long ago as the 1980s.

France was obliged by EU law to allow EU citizens to vote in EU and local elections at the turn of this century.

The vote for non-EU foreigners was voted through by parliament in the early 2000s but shelved by President Nicolas Sarkozy as being “too divisive”.

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

‘It is a question of equal rights’

Surveys organised by activists show that a majority of people are now in favour of letting foreigners who live in France take part in local elections (ie. municipal, departmental and regional).

Last year, 68% of a sample of 1,000 people were ‘very’ or ‘quite’ favourable.

Mohamed Ben Said, a Tunisian doctor from Eure-et-Loir who is president of the J’y suis, j’y vote collective, one of the main organisers of the Paris events, said: “That’s good news for us, but it’s not well known by the public or politicians.

“It’s a question of equal rights and inclusivity. Residents who have been in France for years should be able to participate fully in local democracy.

“For example, I live in a village of 1,000 people where we have transport problems between the village and the nearest town.

“Other issues come up for residents in our villages relating to water quality or school closures. We should have a say.”

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

‘It is time to pick up this issue again’

The issue has been on a back-burner politically, though Mr Ben Said said the Ecologists are supportive.

MP Danièle Obono (La France Insoumise) has promised to introduce a proposed law.

The collective hopes to see this on the parliamentary agenda at the rentrée. Mr Ben Said said they are seeking contacts with politicians of all parties, apart from the far Right.

“We’ve just had an immigration law, which was restrictive with regard to foreign people’s rights and destabilising, even, to some people who have been here for decades.

“So, it’s time to pick up this issue again, and to show that public opinion is more open and welcoming than people think.”

814 Britons were elected in France in 2014 before Brexit

They are delighted to be teaming up with European Britons, he added.

“During the Brexit negotiations we wrote to Michel Barnier to say Britons who could vote for, and sit on, their municipal councils should continue to do so. We want democratic rights to be extended, not to regress.

“But now, hundreds of Britons can no longer be councillors.”

In the last local elections before Brexit, in 2014, more Britons stood than any other foreign nationality and 814 were elected.

Mr Ben Said said 14 EU states have local voting for foreigners, including Ireland, Luxembourg and Belgium.

In the UK, Irish and Commonwealth citizens can vote in all elections.

EU citizens can vote in local elections if they moved before Brexit or if their country has signed an agreement with the UK.

Read more: The pioneering Brit who was French town’s first foreign councillor

Paris event pays homage to French suffragettes

The Paris event is called les journées internationales du droit de vote pour toutes et tous.

It is being held this month in homage to French suffragettes who organised an unofficial referendum on women’s votes on April 26, 1914.

It will start in Place de la République at 11:00 on April 26 with a press conference in historical dress. From 14:00 to 18:00, a symbolic vote will be held.

On April 27, there will be talks at the Palais du Luxem­bourg, with speakers including former Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake of UK activist group Unlock Democracy and Cathe­rine Wihtol de Wenden, politics lecturer and activist for immigrants’ rights.

On April 28, there will be a tour of sites linked to the 1914 votes referendum.

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