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French Socialists stall on foreigners' right to vote


Socialist Party leader Harlem Désir attempted on Saturday to drum up support for a controversial election pledge by François Hollande to grant foreigners the right to vote in local elections, but his fellow Socialists seem reluctant to follow.


Newly-elected Socialist Party leader Harlem Désir roused the Socialist Party conference in Toulouse on Saturday when he pledged not to forget François Hollande’s election promise to grant foreign residents the right to vote in local elections. “It’s a question of Republican fraternity, equality and dignity,” he said, promising a commitment from his party to fight for the rights of foreigners. But not all of his fellow Socialists seem to be in agreement.

The bill, which has faced decades of opposition from the conservative UMP party, was supposed to have been introduced in time for France’s municipal elections in 2014. But six months into power, the Socialist Party has failed to rally the numbers in parliament necessary to adopt it, with some high-profile Socialists suggesting that it is not a priority.

Former Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry said Sunday that while “it would be with great sadness not to have this law introduced by 2014, the French people need to know that our greatest priority is employment”.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also expressed his doubts, describing the bill as “controversial” and “lacking support in parliament” in an interview with radio station France Inter on Wednesday.

Government Spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem meanwhile told Radio Classique on Tuesday that she found a 2014 deadline “unlikely” because it would mean adopting the bill in springtime 2013 at the latest, leaving just six months to gather enough support among parliamentarians.

Currently, only European Union nationals living in France can vote in local elections. Hollande’s pledge to grant the same right to all foreigners was made as part of his 60 election promises. When questioned in April over the move – which was initially floated by former Socialist President François Mitterand in 1981 – Hollande reassured voters that it would be completed during his mandate. “Everything that I’ve talked about in my campaign, all my policy engagements, will be done in the first five-year term,” he said.

But today, the bill is far from ready. Désir’s hearty speech on Saturday may convince more Socialist MPs to stop dragging their feet. Until then, it will remain one of France's longest-debated laws to pass through parliament.

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