‘Giving foreigners vote is giving up sovereignty’

France's president reignited an age-old row recently when he vowed to fight to give foreigners the vote in France. In the first part of our tête-a-tête we hear from a French mayor; who says France would be abandoning part of its sovereignty if foreigners were able to cast ballots.

'Giving foreigners vote is giving up sovereignty'
Should foreigners be able to vote in France's local elections? Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

The simmering, decades old debate about whether foreigners should be able to vote in France’s local elections pushed its way to centre stage again recently when President François Hollande said he has a plan to make it happen.

“How can it be that people who have been here for 20 years, 30 years cannot vote?” Hollande asked in the traditional presidential interview on the occasion of France’s national day, July 14th.

The issue has become something of a political football, over the years, similar to halal food and taxes, that gets kicked around every time there’s a big election on the horizon. Hollande plans to unveil his grand compromise in 2016, just a year before the next presidential vote.

In a preview of the battle that may lay ahead, The Local has pitted Flavien Neuvy, a centrist UDI French mayor, who argues that just because you pay taxes doesn’t mean you can vote against Vincent Rebérioux, vice president of the Human Rights League, who believes the current policy is hurting communities.

First up is Neuvy, the mayor of Cébazat. 

Who do you side with?

Mayor of Cébazat, Flavien Neuvy*: “During his traditional July 14th interview President Hollande brought back up (a bit by surprise) proposal 50 from his electoral platform: grant voting rights to foreigners in local elections.

“It’s nothing new because former president François Mitterrand made exactly the same promise in 1981. It was proposition 80 for him.

“Advocates of this idea support only granting foreigners the right to vote in municipal elections, Hollande took care to specify in his interview.

“First question: why do supporters of voting rights for foreigners want to limit them only to local elections? So there would be a republic of varying speeds? If any readers out there can explain this point, I'm up for a discussion.

“Moreover, it should be noted that it is the locally elected officials who choose senators. Thus, in regards to municipal elections, we cannot say they are strictly local and with no national impact.

“Next, the main argument of these same people says that once foreigners pay local taxes, they should have the right to elect their local representatives. Really? Paying taxes = right to vote?

“This is absurd and besides, if this reasoning was logical, it would also apply to national elections since foreigners also pay VAT and income tax.

“Remember, our republic works on the simple principle of a sovereign people. It is the French people who elect their representatives. Granting voting rights to foreigners is to abandon a part of that sovereignty. It is ill advised.

“One could object to these arguments by saying European Union citizens can already vote and stand in municipal elections (outside their home country). So why not others? Two answers: first, we share a common geographic space and joint rules with the home countries of the foreigners affected by this vote.

“Additionally and most importantly, there is the principle of reciprocity. If a Portuguese person living in France can vote in local (and European) elections, the reverse is also true: a French person can vote in those same elections in Portugal.

“If tomorrow we allowed Chinese citizens or Tunisians the vote in France, do you think the French living in China or Tunisia would be given the same? No, of course not. There is no reason to pass such a law.

"This law has absolutely no chance of passing. But in trying to put it to a vote Holland is sending a message to the left and above all doing the bidding of Marine Le Pen, who is already rejoicing over such a debate, a year before the presidential election.

"And what if that was Hollande’s goal? In summary, given his record unpopularity and small chances of economic growth (and therefore lower unemployment) by 2017, his only hope to win in 2017 would be to end up in a runoff election against Marine Le Pen. Whipping up the National Front while reuniting the left in a social debate is ideal for him.

"If this is his calculation, it is a very dangerous game because this is a sensitive debate that is difficult to bring up calmly.

Click here for the response from Vincent Rebérioux, who insists the French people are on his side.

*A version of Neuvy's comments first appeared on the opinion site Le Plus, which is linked to the Nouvel Observateur.

You can tweet your views to him at @flavienneuvy

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