The French municipal elections take place at the end of March this year. Passions are already running high, although a French friend who is standing says candidates are not supposed to canvass until a couple of weeks before the elections. She’s told us all her ideas but I suppose that’s okay, since we don’t live in the same commune.
Local politics in France can be a minefield. The issues, some of which date back decades, are often of a very local rather than a national nature. Consequently, they inspire considerable controversy and stoke up historical enmities. The smaller the commune, the more acrimonious and personal things can become. A friend is mayor of a small village. She says half the villagers refuse to speak to her.
The fictional town of Clochemerle was immortalised in a TV series some years ago. The town is riven by the decision to install a urinal and eventually the ‘anti’ faction blows up the offending convenience. This might sound far-fetched but it’s not so far from reality.
Things are now changing, but the office of Maire was viewed almost as a personal fiefdom in places, passing seamlessly from father to son. I could name several villages in this area where that was the case until very recently. And some Maires have held office almost all their adult lives, like one in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, who is laying down his sash after 66 years. The prestige of the job has waned while the responsibilities and hassle have increased, so some communes struggle to find someone who wants to be Maire.
In the lists
The municipal elections take place every six years, so anyone who signs up to be a conseiller municipal (councillor) is in for a long stint. To be elected, you have to get onto a list of candidates. Normally, in a village the size of ours (1,500 inhabitants), you find two or three opposing lists. The organiser of a list is the person who expects to be elected Maire by the other conseillers municipaux once the public elections are complete.
Some changes have taken place since the previous elections. Formerly, in our village, you could vote for any combination of names from any or all of the lists, provided you didn’t exceed a certain total number of names. You just crossed out those names you didn’t want to vote for (no putting x’s in boxes here), put the lists in the envelope and dropped it in the urne (ballot box).
Now, in communes with more than 1,000 inhabitants, you have to choose between the opposing lists, i.e. you vote for only one list in its entirety, not individual names. In our village, the number of conseillers municipaux has gone up from 15 to 19. And there has to be parity between the number of men and women fielded on each list and on the subsequent council. The elections take place on two consecutive Sundays: 23rd and 30th March this year.
There are a lot of additional rules about how to divvy up the votes by proportional representation. But since you need a degree in advanced mathematical theory to understand them and I’m brain-damaged following a bout of flu, I will spare you those.
Increasing numbers of Brits are standing for election in France. As EU citizens, we are eligible both to vote (provided we registered before 31st December 2013) and to stand in the local elections. But you have to be a French citizen to become Maire. We know a number of British people who have been or are hoping to become conseillers municipaux. It doesn’t appeal to me but good luck to them for making efforts to integrate.
This recalls a rather surreal conversation I had with our neighbours just before the 2008 elections. We were talking about the head of one of the lists in our commune.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t vote for him,’ Mme F said. ‘He doesn’t come from around here.’
She then looked at me. ‘Are you thinking of standing?’
Well, actually, I don’t come from around here, either.
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