National Front demands EU referendum in France

David Cameron's pledge to hold an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU has been backed by France's far right National Front party, which wants the same in France, where views of the EU have soured over the years.

National Front demands EU referendum in France
Should the French also have a referendum on their membership in the EU? Photo: AFP

Should the French people also be given a vote on whether to stay in or out of the European Union?

That's the view of France's National Front party which has backed David Cameron's stance in offering the British public a chance to decide whether the country's future belongs in the EU or not.

Vice-president of the party Florian Philippot tweeted his views to his 43,000 followers.

“Like the British, the French deserve a referendum on the European Union,” he said.

It's not the first time the National Front's views have fallen in line with those of Cameron.

In 2013 party leader Marine Le Pen praised the PM's efforts to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU and said she wanted to take back control of France's borders in the same way Britain has remained out of the Schengen area.

The idea of a referendum in France is not on the cards but Philippot's call would likely receive support outside his own party and the result of any vote would be a close run thing.

A survey carried out last year to mark Europe Day revealed that only 51 percent of French people want their country to remain a member of the 28-nation bloc.

That was down from 67 percent a decade ago, according to the CSA survey.

The poll showed that voters – 70 percent of them – are disillusioned with the European Union because of its failure to help stem rising unemployment in France, which has a record 3.3 million people out of work.

Sixty-three of those surveyed said they were disappointed with the EU because of the decline of social protection, while 60 percent cited growing numbers of immigrants as another reason for falling out of love with the European project masterminded by France and Germany.

Fifty-two percent said they believed France was losing its national identity.

The French also made their feelings clear in last year's European elections when the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front party topped the polls.

At the time President Hollande tried to rally support for the EU.

“Exiting from Europe is exiting from history,” he wrote, adding that to abandon the euro single currency – which the Front National is urging – would lead to the nation's decline.

While acknowledging disappointment with the EU especially in combatting unemployment, Hollande called for action by a “progressive” Europe.

After meeting with Britain's David Cameron in Paris on Thursday Hollande told the UK Prime Minister that France wanted Britain to remain in the EU.



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British expats angry over EU referendum lockout

Details of the UK’s referendum bill were published on Thursday, but there was no mention of guaranteeing the vote to ALL British expats living in EU member states. An omission that has left many Brits in France angry and deeply concerned.

British expats angry over EU referendum lockout
Not ALL British expats will be able to vote in the EU referendum. Photo: AFP

Britons will soon be given the chance to vote “Yes” to stay in the EU, but many UK citizens living in EU member states look like being barred from the vote.

The government introduced its EU referendum bill to parliament on Thursday, a day after it was presented in the Queen’s speech.

The simple question on the ballot paper will be “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” Voters will then be asked to answer “Yes” or “No”.

A statement from Downing Street said the vote represented “an important choice about our country’s destiny.”

“It will pave the way for the British people to have their say for the first time in 40 years on our place in the EU,” Downing Street said. 

But the reality is, thousands of Britons who arguably have the most to lose if the “No” camp is triumphant, are unlikely to have their say in that choice.

Currently anyone who has been living abroad for 15 years or more is barred from voting in General Elections in Britain and the same rule will apply for the EU referendum, despite the result potentially having a direct impact on expats.

To twist the knife in even further the Conservative government has planned to scrap the 15-year rule at some point during Prime Minister David Cameron’s second term, but they seem unwilling to push this reform through in time for the referendum.

Instead it looks likely the referendum will be brought forward that may not leave enough for the voting rights bill to pass.

That stance has left many long term British expats in France both bemused and angry.

Christopher Chantrey, from the British Community Committee in France says he is at a loss to explain why the government cannot accommodate all expats.

“The outcome of the referendum will directly affect those British citizens living in any EU member state,” he told The Local.

“Members of the British community in France feel very strongly about this because of the potential impact on their lives, especially the early retirees, who would probably have to leave France if Britain left the EU.

“What I don’t understand is why the votes for life bill can’t be passed in time for the referendum. We haven’t been told why it seemingly can’t be done.”

READ ALSO: Give us a vote – we've got the most to lose if the UK quits

Give us a vote: we've got most to lose if UK quits

‘No way to run a business or a country’

Chantrey says the stance of the UK government is bizarre when citizens of many other countries, including France, are given the right to vote for life.

“In France we hear all about the French community voting in the elections back home but Brits abroad are not treated in the same way.

“What makes Brits different from French, Spanish and Portuguese etc? What is it about Britain that means we lose our right to vote? A right to vote is primarily linked to nationality.”

Chantrey said the UK government is wrong to neglect its expats.

“It’s a bit like a shopkeeper saying ‘I’m not interested in these customers once they have left the shop,’. That’s no way to run a business and it’s no way to run a country,” he said.

Helen Curran, who lives in Boullay-les-Troux said there is similar concern among European nationals living in the UK.

“I am concerned about the fact that I can't vote in the referendum. I also have friends who are European nationals living in the UK, and they too are angry that they have no voice,” she said.  

“When people complain about the “undemocratic” EU, do they consider the lack of voting rights for EU citizens around Europe?”

France based Brian Cave, author of the blog Pensioners Debout, who has been a long-time campaigner for the 15-year rule to be scrapped said: “I have been in France for more than 15 years and I want to vote in the referendum and all British residents in the EU should have it.

“We are in France as EU citizens not as foreigners, but if the UK leaves the EU then that’s how we will be seen and France can introduce any old law for how it treats foreigners,” he said.

With so much riding on the result of the referendum questions are being asked why exactly Prime Minister David Cameron is effectively denying so many the right to vote.

“The only reason I can think for why we haven’t been given the vote is that it’s a cunning ploy to keep all the Euroscpetics in the Tory party quiet,” said Cave.

While most Brits in France are united in the belief that they should be able to vote in the referendum, many are divided over whether the UK should actually remain in the EU.

In a debate on the Survive France Network, one commenter said: “I'll vote to leave as I believe that the EU has become an undemocratic leviathan serving only the egos of the richer nations and providing jobs for redundant politicians.”

Another responded: “I chuckle whenever I hear someone say how undemocratic the EU is. Yes, it has its faults, but the UK is governed by a party winning 37 percent of the votes looking after 20 percent of the population's interests, intending to scrap the human rights bill. God help us all if we do leave the EU.”