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ELECTION

Why does France have five unpaid ‘reservist’ MEPs?

At the most recent European elections, France elected 74 new members of the European Parliament, plus five who will be on the bench for the next few months.

Why does France have five unpaid 'reservist' MEPs?
The RN is one of four French political parties that will soon have an extra MEP. Photo: AFP

Why does France have reservist MEPs? 

Normally it doesn't. In previous years, France has elected 74 people to the European Parliament. This time it's different and it's the United Kingdom's fault.

READ ALSO European election analysis: Cut the hysteria, Le Pen is not on her way to the French presidency


The European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Photo: AFP

Is this Brexit related?

Afraid so. When the UK announced that it wanted to leave the EU, one of the (many) things that was affected was the composition of the European Parliament. Once it was not a member state, the UK would obviously lose all of its 73 MEPs.

The European Parliament decided that most of these seats would simply be scrapped and the parliament would be streamlined from 751 members down to 705.

However the remaining 27 seats would be redistributed among countries that had been left underrepresented – including France, which is in line to get five new members.

Seats in the parliament are allocated based on population numbers, and some countries that have seen demographic changes have been left underrepresented. France is one of these along with Denmark (which gets one extra), Estonia (one), Ireland (two), Spain (five), Croatia (one) Italy (three), the Netherlands (three) Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden (which all get one apiece).  

So this comes into effect now?

No. It was supposed to, because the UK was supposed to be gone by March 29th, but for reasons we won't go into here, that has not happened and in fact the UK took part in the European elections on May 26th and sent back 73 MEPs.

This means that the countries that were supposed to be getting extra members have had to create a “reserve list”.

In France, the French parliament has agreed that its five new MEPs-in-waiting will be selected from the lists in the usual way, and informed that they have won a seat, but until the UK leaves they will not take up their seats and will not be paid.

When the French Interior Ministry announced the European election results, it added that once the UK leaves, Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National party will get one extra MEP, Macron's La Republique En Marche, which was less than one per cent behind the RN, will get two, the green party will get one extra, as will Raphael Glucksmann's leftist Envie d'Europe.

This means that  Jean-Lin Lacapelle of the RN, Sando Gozi and Ilana Cicurel of LREM, Claude Gruffat of the greens and Nora Mebarek of Envie d'Europe will all be called up as MEPs once the UK leaves.

And when will that be?

Only a fool would predict that. The current leaving date deadline is October 31st, but the UK has had two previous deadlines that were extended, so who knows?

 

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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