A French bill that would allow non-EU foreigners to vote in local elections passed its first hurdle Friday when it was adopted by the upper-house Senate. But the bill stands no chance of passing in the lower house, the National Assembly.
AFP - A French bill to allow non-EU foreigners to vote in local elections passed its first hurdle Friday when it was adopted by the upper-house Senate after a tumultuous debate.
But the approval -- by a Senate dominated by left-wing parties -- remains mainly symbolic, as the bill stands no chance of passing in the lower house, the National Assembly, which remains under conservative control.
Some 300 supporters and opponents of the bill, separated by police, rallied near the Senate building to voice their opinions on the divisive issue of France's immigrant population.
After debate the bill was adopted by a Senate dominated by the opposition Socialists, Communists and Greens, with 173 against 166 votes.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon, in a rare upper-house appearance, said he was firmly opposed to the bill that he said "undermines one of the foundations of our republic".
He accused left-wing parties of "running the risk of voiding French nationality and citizenship of their substance".
Interior Minister Claude Gueant said: "We vote because we are citizens; we are citizens because we are French. Nobody is a citizen because he lives in France."
IN PICTURES: SENATE BILL ON VOTE FOR IMMIGRANTS SPARKS PROTESTS
There was a heavy police presence outside the French senate on Thursday as lawmakers debated a bill to allow non-EU immigrants to vote in local elections. The initiative was penned by the Socialist Party and its left-wing allies, which have a slight majority of seats.
The anti-immigration National Front party called on supporters to rally in front of the senate building in protest at the bill. Party members and far-right sympathisers gathered to hear presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speak. (Photo: J Bamat)
Christine Tasin, President of Résistance Républicaine. "On this point we stand with Marine Le Pen. We believe that the right to vote is linked to nationality. Immigrants who wish to vote must apply for citizenship and we encourage them to do that." (Photo: J Bamat)
Arthur, 18, member of the National Front’s youth league: "It's a privilege to be able to vote. If a person wants to be part of an electoral process, even at the local level, they must first be a citizen." (Photo: J Bamat)
"The bill is an affront to our sovereignty and our national identity," says Alain, a National Front member. (Photo: J Bamat)
Gael Nofri, campaign advisor to Marine Le Pen: "We are here to show that there are some people who are dearly attached to the ideals of citizenship and nationality. We are here to denounce Nicolas Sarkozy’s flip-flopping on the issue of immigration." (Photo: J Bamat)
Marine Le Pen was surrounded by the media upon her arrival. Opinion polls suggest she is likely to come third in the first round of next year's presidential election. (Photo: J Bamat)
"The only concern of the Socialist Party is to give additional rights to those who, it seems to me, are already treated really well in this country," Le Pen tells supporters outside the senate. (Photo: J Bamat)
Members of France’s Communist Party, the French Green party and the International League of Human Rights organised a counter rally outside the senate to support the debate on the bill. (Photo: J Bamat)
Pro-immigrant rally chants: "I am here, I am staying, I am voting!" (Photo: J Bamat)
Vincent Rebérioux, vice president of the International Human Rights League. "We want to support this bill, which shows that policy is finally aligning with the view of a majority in France. 59% to 61% agree foreigners should have some voting rights."
Antoine De Cabanes, member of the French Communist Party. "It's normal that people who live here and work here also have the right to participate in politics." (Photo: J Bamat)
Maxim Abdalaziz: "This is an opportunity to show that even if some French politicians drum up xenophobia, not everyone in France is like that" (Photo: J Bamat)
Roger Yoba, from Cameroon: "I have lived in France since 1978. I know more of what’s going in the [Paris] 20th district than what’s going on in my home country. We want people to be able to participate in the decisions that affect the neighbourhoods they live in.”
But leading socialist Senator Francois Rebsamen rejected the criticism and communist Senator Eliane Assassi said: "How can we justify that an Algerian or Moroccan worker who has lived in France legally for decades cannot vote nor be elected to public office?"
President Nicolas Sarkozy, also opposed to the bill, has called it "risky".
It would allow foreigners to become municipal councillors, but not to become mayors or take part in national elections.
If the law were to pass through the National Assembly, the final decision would lie with the president, who could put it to a referendum or lay it aside.
In elections in September the Socialist Party and its Communist and Green allies won enough seats to give the left control of the upper house for the first time in French history.
The Socialists hope they can carry forward their momentum to a presidential win in April and May elections.
Date created : 2011-12-09