As an expat in France you have to get used to being a 2nd-class citizen in a very important respect – voting. Citizens of other EU countries resident in France can vote in the élections municipales (town council elections) and the European elections, but not in the regional, national or presidential elections. Apparently, after 15 years away from the UK, you lose the right to vote there at all. So you are almost completely disenfranchised.
I’ve been in France for 13 years. During the last presidential and national elections, I felt keenly that I was missing out; now with the regional elections round the corner in March I have the same sentiment. I have never voted in the UK since moving to France for two reasons: it was difficult to find out how to go about it (OK, I didn’t try very hard) and I didn’t feel that voting would make much difference to my life.
There are two diverging schools of thought on this issue. The first is that there should be no taxation without representation; you live here and pay local and national taxes, thus contributing to the economy, which should give you the right to participate in choosing the government. The second is that you chose to live in France, turned your back on your own country and you aren’t a French citizen, so it’s fair enough.
Currently, the only way I can get full voting rights in France is to become a French citizen through naturalisation. The procedure is eye-wateringly bureaucratic, it can take 18 months or more for the authorities to make a decision and then there’s no guarantee that they will approve your application. In addition to the usual sheaf of documents, you have to provide evidence that you are of good character. My husband says this might pose some difficulties.
As more people choose to live in countries where they weren’t born, the issue of citizenship becomes increasingly important and a proper debate about it is long overdue. The clumsily handled government effort to start a debate about nationality in France has done nothing to take things forward. During his election campaign, President Sarkozy said he was not closed to the idea of giving foreign citizens the vote, but he’s been remarkably silent about it since he was elected.
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