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'Forget the UK election, Brits need vote in France'

Ben McPartland · 7 May 2015, 13:09

Published: 07 May 2015 13:09 GMT+02:00

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Reports suggest scores of British expats in France and beyond have been unable to vote in the UK election on Thursday because their postal votes didn’t arrive on time.

It means many will miss out casting their vote on what has been billed the most important election for a generation – and one that seems to mean much more to British expats, given the threat that the UK's membership of the EU could be riding on the outcome.

For some it may have been the last time they could have voted, given the UK strips expats of their voting rights once they have been abroad for 15 years.

But should us expats really have the right to vote back in the UK?

For many, even just asking the question would prompt palpitations and howls of derision.

It’s the country of their birth, where they grew up and where they worked most of their lives. It's where their family lives, where they still have homes and the country that pays their pensions and where they still pay taxes. And besides they may return one day.

It's hard to argue against that, but while I’ll watch the election with interest and be desperately hoping for a particular outcome, I couldn’t quite bring myself to vote. 

SEE ALSO: Why EU expats deserve the vote in France



Yes I have family there but they have the right to vote for themselves in the country they live in. I haven't spent most of my working life there paying into the system. Yes I may return, after which I’ll be able to vote again.

The 2017 French presidential and legislative elections, which I won't be able to vote in, will, in reality have much more of an impact on my life, unless David Cameron does pull us out of Europe, that is.

The fact I didn’t get to vote might mean I only get one more chance, given the 15-year rule. But at the moment it doesn’t feel like a big issue.

The main issue is that I and other British and other EU expats who have lived in France for a considerable amount of time don’t have the right to vote in the French elections that really matter – presidential and legislative.

And of course the same could be said for London’s massive French community, most of whom won't be able to vote in the UK today.

It all comes down to the argument of whether you should vote in the country of origin versus the country where you live.

“I pay my taxes in France, so I should have the right to vote here,” is the main thrust of the argument to give EU expats the vote in the countries where they live.

However reducing it to a monetary claim is not going to convince the French to let us vote for their president.

Most of the French people with whom I have raised this argument are slightly taken aback to think that just paying taxes could give you such an important vote.

And they are right, we can’t just be expected to get off the ferry, get a job and then go straight to the polling booth.

They French, probably more than other nationalities in Europe, would like us to have a stronger bond and even affinity with their country rather than just with their tax man before we can vote for the head of state.

It's understandable, but surely that bond would only really develop once you have the right to vote for the person and the party who makes all the important decisions that could affect your life and those of your children.

People say you can always try and take French nationality, not that I’ve got anything against that, but surely the two don’t have to be so rigidly connected.

There are ways it could work, whether it's a French language test or a minimum of time in the country. (see link below)

CLICK HERE on the image below for a gallery of seven options for how expats could be given the vote.


Story continues below…

It's an issue that has prompted the “Let Me Vote” campaign which has argued that EU expats should be given the right to vote in the country where they live and not where they are from.

In a previous interview with The Local, the campaign’s leader Philippe Cayla, head of TV station Euronews said:

“Since the Maastricht Treaty we have talked about EU Citizenship, but what does it mean to be an EU citizen if you live in a different country and you don’t have the same rights as everyone else? EU citizens in each country should be equal.

“You can’t have an open market and encourage freedom of movement without ensuring voting rights." 

Another campaigner Tony Venables, director and founder of the European Citizenship Action Service, believes a change in voting rights is inevitable.

“The EU preaches about democracy to other countries but there are citizens of Europe living in countries who don’t have a basic right,” Venables told The Local at the time. 

“I don’t have the right to vote in Belgium in national elections that affect the future of a country in which my kids are educated. 

“The fact we have never had this right is a subtle reminder to say that, even though you are living in another country, you are still foreigners. We will get some kind of solution, it’s inevitable."

Perhaps the best option would be to give us all the choice.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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