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France ditches pledge to give foreigners vote

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France ditches pledge to give foreigners vote
Photo: AFP
12:19 CET+01:00
The French government has given up on one of President François Hollande's landmark election pledges - to give foreigners the right to vote in local elections. Rights groups tell The Local the government has "caved in to xenophobia and racism".

The controversial plan to give non-French nationals from outside the EU the right to vote in local elections was finally buried this week by French PM Manuel Valls.

The prime minister admitted that the country was not ready for a reform that is firmly opposed by the right, but backed by most on the left.

Speaking to French students this week, Valls admitted it would be “impossible” both “politically and constitutionally” to achieve the reform, that was first put forward by President François Mitterand back in the early 1980s.

The plan, as laid down in Hollande's campaign promise, would have seen those foreign nationals who are legally living in France and have been in the country for more than five years, given the right to vote in municipal elections – as is the case for citizens from other EU countries.

But another electoral promise appears to have been broken.

“I do not think it's a priority,” the PM said.

“It is no longer a subject, it will not be implemented and I am convinced that it will not re-proposed at the next presidential election,” he added.

France's labour minister Myriam El-Khomri added: “Since the Senate is in the hands of the right, this law would never pass.

“We are accepting the fact that we cannot do it today,” she said.

Valls' words come as a surprise given that only last year President Hollande himself vowed to make the reform 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.


(Photo: AFP)

The reform would have needed a change to the French constitution, which given a lack of support in parliament may only have been possible through a referendum.

With the sensitive issue of immigration once again dominating the political and public debate and the far-right National Front riding a wave of popularity, it appears the jittery French government is simply not prepared to broach the issue of voting rights for foreigners.

Ministers fear the reform would give the right and the far right a chance to galvanize support among a French public, whom surveys suggest are growing increasingly intolerant towards immigrants.


(Photo: AFP)

France's Socialist government is still scarred from the memories of the mass anti-gay marriage protests, and with the 2017 elections drifting ever closer they want to steer away from any issues that will give opponents the chance to mobilize.

"Democracy has lost out to xenophobia and racism," Vincent Riberioux, vice president of France's Human Rights League (LDH) told The Local on Thursday.

"The policy of the government is being dictated by the far right. They are scared of the National Front.

"The government has shown a complete lack of political courage by not taking on this issue. By refusing to confront the question the government is ceding to xenophobia and racism.

"They have a responsibility to send out a clear message to the country. They may not have achieved the reform, but they should have shown the courage to try."

Members of Hollande's own party are also not happy.

Jean-Christophe Cambadelis insisted the matter was “still on the party's agenda and would happen one day.

“Giving foreigners, who are legally on the French soil for ten years, the right to vote is not detrimental to the French Republic, on the contrary it's a way of strengthening it.”

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