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Socialist Senate pushes bill to give vote to foreigners
France’s opposition socialist Party wants to give non-EU foreigners the right to vote in local elections. Under current rules, immigrants need ten years’ residency before they can get citizenship, and only then are they granted the right to vote.
Lawmakers in France’s Socialist-dominated Senate on Tuesday adopted the text of a bill that would give foreigners the right to vote in local elections, provoking a broadside from President Nicolas Sarkozy and his centre-right UMP party.
Currently (apart from French nationals), only EU citizens have the right to vote in France, and then only in local elections.
According to Socialists, the president desperately needs to attract voters away from the far-right National Front ahead of next year’s presidential and legislative polls.
Socialist Senator Richard Yung told FRANCE 24 that the UMP objectors, who branded the project as “hazardous”, want to reinforce the view that the government is cracking down on immigration.
“Back in 2005, Sarkozy actually supported giving limited voting rights to foreigners,” he said. “But in the context of next year’s elections the UMP is opposing the bill as a way of showing far-right voters that it is being tough against foreigners."
“It is a way of appealing to voters who might otherwise vote for the National Front," Yung said. "The objections are a way of stigmatising African immigrants, not of the Swiss or Americans living in France.”
Citizenship a requirement to vote
The proposed law, adopted by the Senate on November 29, would allow immigrants from outside the EU to vote in local elections after five years of residency, although this right would not extend to legislative or presidential polls.
Foreigners would not be eligible to become mayors of towns or municipalities, but could be elected to local councils.
Other EU countries, such as the Netherlands and the Scandinavian member states, allow foreigners living legally in their countries to vote in local elections. In the UK, all citizens of Commonwealth nations and of Ireland, who are resident in the UK, can fully participate in the democratic process, and even stand for election.
The USA, meanwhile, does not allow any non-citizen to vote nationally or in the vast majority of local jurisdictions.
In France, immigrants from outside the EU must become French citizens in order to vote. To qualify for citizenship they need to have ten years’ residency.
Richard Yung believes that problems linked to immigration – above all integration into French society – can only be resolved by giving foreigners a say in how their towns and districts are run.
“We are saying that living here for five years, paying taxes and paying into the social security system is a sufficient demonstration of integration,” said Yung. “It should give you a say in how your tax money is being spent locally.
“If you live in France you should not be obliged to become a French citizen to have a say in how your local municipality is run.”
‘A will to share a common destiny’
On Saturday, French Prime Minster Francois Fillon told senior UMP Party members that paying taxes did not justify giving foreigners the right to vote.
He said: “To vote you need to demonstrate the will to share a common destiny, a will that is rooted in adopting the French nationality.”
This message is being pushed by the “Droite Populaire”, a conservative grouping of UMP lawmakers that is determined to stop the Socialist Senators’ bill from going through.
Jacques Myard, a member of Droite Populaire, told FRANCE 24 he is even opposed to EU citizens having the right to vote in French local elections.
“To give foreigners the right to vote is contrary to the French republican conception of what citizenship means,” he said.
“A foreigner who wants to vote in France must first demonstrate that he or she wants to be French and to become a citizen. Only then should they have the right to vote in France.”
The Droite Populaire has launched a petition against giving foreigners the right to vote, which has garnered less than 30,000 supporters since the end of October.
Meanwhile, a BVA poll conducted on November 26 said 61% of respondents supported the Senate proposal.
The Senate, France’s upper house of parliament, will debate the bill on December 8. If the bill is passed, it will have to go back to the UMP-dominated National Assembly for approval.