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Voting rights for French and British nationals living abroad

By Dr Sue Collard, Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex.

The last election has revived a smouldering fire of discontent amongst British expatriates, many of whom live in France, with regard to their voting rights in the UK. Their right to vote in a general election is dependent on their having been previously registered in the constituency of their last UK residence, and elapses after 15 years of residence abroad. Ex-pats cannot vote in local or mayoral elections, or elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the London Assembly
Polling Station
Polling Station
There is some compensation for this in the fact that British residents in France can of course invoke their rights as EU citizens and register to vote in their place of residence in both European and local French elections. But this does not placate the small but vociferous minority of ex-pats who claim to have been disenfranchised, because they left the UK more than 15 years ago. The blogosphere is currently buzzing with indignant and angry Brits who feel they should be able to maintain some kind of representation in the UK, and an application for judicial review of the relevant British law has just been lodged by lawyers for a British man living in Madrid, who is arguing that he is being penalised for exercising his fundamental right to move freely between European countries, and that Britain is thus infringing the guarantees of the European treaties, upheld by the ECJ. ( Challenge Disenfranchisement Law.pdf)
French Parliament
French Parliament
It is against this background that there have been increasing calls for Britain to emulate a proposal by President Sarkozy, currently being taken through Parliament, to give French overseas voters direct representation in the National Assembly, through députés des Français de l’Etranger. There will be 11 new constituencies created specifically for overseas voters, one of which will include the UK, Ireland and the Scandinavian and Baltic states. Given the fact that the number of French citizens registered in the UK (107,914 in 2007) far surpasses those in all the other countries put together, it is not surprising the British media have been reporting that this will mean ‘an MP for Britain’. These new députés, who will be elected for the first time in 2012,will complement the existing system of representation for overseas voters, who currently elect members of the Assemblée des Français de l’Etranger (AFE ), which in turn elects 12 specific overseas members of the Senate. French ex-pats also retain, without time restrictions, their right to vote by proxy (or in person) in all elections in France, including local, and for presidential elections and referendums,  they can choose to cast their vote in the embassy or consulate of their country of residence as long as they have registered on the consular lists.(
France’s long republican tradition of encouraging the participation of ex-pats thus makes for a strong contrast with the British approach, though Denmark and Ireland have even more restrictive policies of attaching voting rights to residence in the home country. Others such as Austria, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands give unrestricted voting rights to their ex-pats, and Spain, Italy and Portugal provide theirs with representative bodies similar to the French. If the legal argument is won by the British man in Madrid, perhaps this would open the path to a ‘European policy on Europeans resident outside their country of origin’, as called for in the Paris Declaration of the Assemblée des Français de l’Etranger during the French Presidency of the EU in September 2008. This would involve persuading all member-states to allow their nationals to continue to vote in the national elections of their country, regardless of their place of residence, and without time restrictions: a challenging prospect, but one which could give new meaning to the concept and practice of European citizenship in the 21st century.
Dr Sue Collard, Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex.


27/12/2011 - t.buhaholn said :

Always the best content from these prodigious wirerts.

02/11/2010 - patriciaconnell said :

I do think that in the UK when one mentions local elections, it refers to municipal elections.

02/11/2010 - mjmcfarlane said :

I don't know when this patronising piece was written, but I don't think that you are a "small but vociferous minority ... buzzing with indignant and angry Brits" etc. by expecting to be able to vote. This lady vaguely says British ex-pats can vote in French "local elections" whatever that means. Does she mean national or municipal? Just to inform her that at least in Spain, after 15 years away from Britain you can only vote in municipal and European elections.

In other words, you pay your taxes to the national tax agency and have no vote about how they are spent. "No taxation without representation" sound familiar? I think that expecting to vote in GB 15 years after you left is unrealistic, but expecting not to lose your right to vote at all is more than reasonable. In Spain, Ecuadorian citizens can vote here under reciprocal voting arrangements, whereas European citizens like the British can not. Is it really beyond the wit of European governments to give their citizens, wherever they live, the right to vote in national elections? If South America can do it, why can't Europe?

The concept of "European citizen" hardly seems to exist (except if they are talking about the "flow of labour" and "freedom of movement" for economic reasons). We citizens move, but our rights often get left behind, and people like this author who are presumably in a position to influence these processes find it amusing.


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