‘We will miss our British councillors, they bring new ideas to France’

'We will miss our British councillors, they bring new ideas to France'
Photo: AFP
They assimilated the culture, learnt the language, paid the taxes, and served as public representatives in their adopted home country.

But from March this year, hundreds of Britons serving as municipal councillors in cities and towns around France will no longer be eligible to hold office. Or vote.

As Britain readies to depart from the European Union after a near half-century alliance, small-town French mayors, especially, say they are dreading the pending “colossal loss” of a key political resource.

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British local councillor Patrick Head with mayor Lydie Brionne. Photo: AFP

“It is hard to find motivated people in a small town,” said mayor Lydie Brionne of Perriers-en-Beauficel in Normandy in northwest France, where two of the 11 municipal councillors are British.

Just like other citizens of the EU bloc, Britons have since 2001 been entitled to stand in local elections in France, except for the position of mayor for which you need French citizenship.

They will lose this right after Brexit becomes official at midnight on Friday, though they will be allowed to serve out their mandates until fresh local elections in France in March.

No longer EU citizens, Britons in France will also lose the right to vote in local polls.

Brionne said Perriers-en-Beauficel – population 216 – will struggle to find replacements when its duo of British representatives are forced to retire.

One of them is Patrick Head, 64, originally from Wiltshire in the south of Britain and the 28th Briton to buy a house in the sleepy French commune.

In 2014 – 10 years after moving there – he received by far the most votes in a local election, but despite this massive show of support, he will be “fired” shortly, said a “very disappointed” Head.

'Colossal loss'

“We will miss Patrick because he helps us a lot,” added Brionne, explaining he is a key link between the local authority and the 50-odd Britons living in this corner of Normandy.

“For the last 20 years, many Brits have moved here, they have repopulated the town and given it dynamism,” she added.

Far from an isolated case, similar fears exist in other towns where Britons have put down roots.

Of France's 35,048 municipal councils, 712 boast British representatives – 757 individuals in total.

They make up almost a third of the nearly 2,500 foreign representatives among France's nearly half a million local councillors.

In Poupas, a town of 85 inhabitants in the south of France, three of the 11 councillors are from across the Channel. Two recently obtained French nationality, which means they remain eligible to serve.

“It is a colossal loss,” Poupas mayor Pascal Guerin told AFP of the Brexit-induced upheaval.

British residents of Poupas “are perfectly integrated into the town life, even more than the rest of the population,” he said.

“For them, Brexit is a total aberration, they are taking it very badly,” he added.

“One councillor even cried when Boris Johnson was elected” prime minister last July on a pro-Brexit ticket.

Allison Mackie, a 63-year-old from Scotland, is one of two British representatives on the council of Bellegarde-du-Razes, a town of 240 people in southern France.

She has lived here since 2011, and is heartbroken that she will no longer be able to serve her community as an elected official.

'Unfair'

“We built our house here, we pay taxes here, we consume here, but we are scrapped from the voter's list,” she complained.

Virginie Windridge, the 39-year-old mayor of Jouac – a town of 180 residents in central France – is married to a British man.

She finds it “very unfair that people who have been here for years, pay their taxes, and contribute to community life will overnight have no right other than to 'shut up and pay'.

“It is hard to swallow.”

The two British councillors for the town, said the mayor, play an important role in the community. “They bring new ideas, a different way of operating and of viewing things.”

According to official British statistics, France is home to a little over 157,000 British citizens – although there are likely to be many more than that who are not registered.

Outside Paris, large numbers are to be found in Brittany and the southwestern Dordogne region.

British people are sometimes credited with breathing new life into dying parts of rural France, taking over homes and businesses being abandoned en masse by younger people flocking to the cities.


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