A rare democratic opportunity for foreign nationals

Jürgen Nefzger (photo) is one of 14,000 foreign nationals registered to vote in the Paris local election. Their ballots will hardly weigh on the result, but they mean a lot to those who fight for the rights of foreigners.


Foreign voters represent only 1% of the Parisian electorate. They will therefore not decide the final result of the municipal elections on Marc 9 and 16. But, for those voters, local elections are the only opportunity to take part in the political life of the country they live in.


Fernanda Marrucchelli is an Italian national who has been living in France for 20 years. She is a local councillor in Paris's 20th arrondissement - the only outgoing elected official in the city who does not hold French nationality.

"I'm not a token foreign representative, I'm a full citizen engaged in politics", said this long-term activist who once sat on the national board of the French Communist Party. As a local councillor, she has been working on transportation and environmental issues - not issues associated with foreign nationals.


Yet electoral rights for immigrants are always on her mind. Her daughter has recently applied to become a French national, something she never did. But Marrucchelli would like to have the same rights as her daughter, even though she has not made the same choice. "A person must be a citizen wherever she is, regardless of his or her nationality", she said.


This year, she is leading a leftist list formed by anti-capitalist groups. Voting rights for non-nationals, including immigrants from outside the EU, are high on her agenda.


In France, in conformity with European law, nationals of the 26 other EU member states can vote and run for office in the municipal and European elections. Foreign local councillors, however, cannot become mayors nor elect senators as their French counterparts do.


Non-nationals are not allowed to take part in other elections, especially national ones. "I feel a bit excluded from the electoral system", said Jürgen Nefzger (photographer), a German photographer who moved to France in 1990 and published a collection of images of his new homeland in a book called Hexagone. "It is when elections are taken away from you that you realise how important they are", he added.


As Germany does not allow dual citizenship, he cannot become a French national without losing his German roots. He therefore votes in the German national elections from here, and in the municipal and European elections in France since they became accessible to EU nationals in 2001.

Until he can vote for a French president or MP, Jürgen Nefzger hopes to support the re-election of outgoing Paris mayor  Bertrand Delanoë this year.

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