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British man wins case after wrongly being removed from electoral roll in France

A British man with dual nationality has been reinstated on the French electoral roll after a tribunal ruled that he had been removed in error after Brexit.

British man wins case after wrongly being removed from electoral roll in France
Polling opens for municipal elections on Sunday, March 15th. Photo: AFP

Ronan O'Neill, who lives in the département of Yvelines just outside Paris, has dual British and Irish nationality by virtue of being born in Belfast.

But last month he learned that he had been struck off the electoral roll in France and would not be able to vote in the forthcoming municipal elections, because he was listed on the electoral roll as British.

The rules in France state that EU citizens who are full time residents in France can vote in local and European locals, although not in presidential elections.

Until recently this included British people, but on Brexit Day all British citizens lost their status as EU citizens and are therefore no longer allowed to vote in elections or stand for office in France.

READ ALSO 'We will miss our British councillors, they bring new ideas to France'

The exception to this is anyone who has dual nationality with another EU country, such as Ireland. 

As EU citizens they are allowed to remain in France without the need for further residence permits and they also retain the right to vote.

The French statistics body INSEE, which organises the electoral rolls, confirmed to French media that after Brexit it had been ordered by the Interior Ministry to remove all British citizens from electoral rolls.

However it added in a statement that: “It should be noted that only one nationality can be entered in the répertoire électoral unique or REU (electoral roll)” raising the possibility that other British dual nationals could also have been erroneously removed.

When Mr O'Neill learned of his removal, he took his case to a tribunal, which ruled that he should not have been removed and reinstated him to the roll.

Local media recorded the president of the Rambouillet tribunal telling Mr O'Neill: “The préfecture confirms that this disbarment does not take into account your dual nationality. You should not have been disbarred.”

READ ALSO What you need to know about France's municipal elections

INSEE released a statement after the tribunal reading: “Brexit has resulted in the withdrawal of the right to vote from British citizens of EU member states.

“As manager of the REU, INSEE has been instructed by the Interior Ministry to remove all British citizens from the register.
 
“In order to carry out these removals, INSEE relied on the nationality indicated in the REU for each voter and removed the voters for whom this nationality variable was set to “British”.
 
“It should be noted that only one nationality can be entered in the REU.
 
“The voter's nationality is information provided by the communes (or the voter in the case of an online application for registration) on the basis of the supporting documents provided.
 
“INSEE does not intervene at all in the consideration of a registration and the information contained in the REU is that resulting from the registration process, which is the responsibility of the mayor of the municipality.
 
“If people consider that they have been wrongly struck off the register because they have dual nationality, the only possibility now open to them, if they wish to take part in the municipal elections, is to apply to the judicial court.
 
“If the court asks for the person to be re-registered with Irish nationality, he or she will be able to vote and the REU will be corrected because all court decisions are sent to INSEE for modification of the REU.”
 
The first round of voting for the local elections – which elect local officials ranging from village mayors to the Mayor of Paris – is on Sunday, March 15th.
 

 

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

As energy prices soar around Europe, France is the notable exception where most people have seen no significant rise in their gas or electricity bills - so what lies behind this policy? (Hint - it's not just that the French would riot if their bills exploded).

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

On most international comparisons of rising energy prices, France is the outlier – but the government control of energy prices is not in fact a new policy and was in place well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent gas and electricity prices soaring.

At present prices for domestic gas are frozen at 2021 levels and electricity prices can only increase four percent per year. According to economy minister Bruno Le Maire, without these measures French bills would have risen by 60 percent for gas and 45 percent for electricity.

Both these measures – collectively known as the bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield) – are in place until at least the end of 2022, and could be extended into 2023.

The extension of the price shield was confirmed by parliament earlier in August – part of a €65 billion package of measures aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis – but had been in place for much longer.

Tariff shield

The reason that gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels is that the freeze came into effect on November 1st 2021 – well before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The measure was initially put in place to help people deal with the economic after-effects of the pandemic, but was extended in the spring of 2022, when electricity prices were also capped at four percent.

Price regulation

But although prolonged price freezes are unusual, the French government involvement in price-setting is completely normal and during non-freeze periods, a rate is set each month.

If you read French media (or The Local), you’ll notice regular articles on ‘what changes next month’ which include gas and electricity prices, usually expressed as a month-on-month percentage rise or fall. This refers to the maximum rate that utility companies are allowed to increase their charges per month.

The government-set rate refers to the basic price plan from EDF. Some people are on special deals or time-limited tariffs, so if their deal or payment plan ends and they go back onto the basic rate, they can see a rise above the government rate.

Around 85 percent of households in France get their electricity from EDF. 

READ MORE: Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%

State-owned utilities

So, why is the government involved? Well, it’s the majority stakeholder in EDF, the country’s largest electricity supplier, and owns Gaz de France (Engie). 

At present EDF isn’t completely state owned – although there are plans to fully nationalise it – but it owns 84 percent.

The French state owns a lot of service and utility companies including the country’s rail provider SNCF, postal service La Poste and France Télévisions. One notable exception is the country’s autoroutes, which are run by private companies, although the government sets limits on toll charges. 

Nuclear 

France is less exposed to energy shocks than some other European countries because of its nuclear sector.

It is unusual among European nations in the size of its nuclear industry – around 70 percent of electricity comes from its own domestic nuclear power plants, although during the heatwave several plants have had to lower output as rivers have become too hot to effectively cool the reactors. There are also ongoing technical issues that have seen some of the older plants shut down or forced to lower output.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear?

France is usually a net exporter of electricity, but at peak times it has to import electricity, usually via the high-priced international spot market.

It does, however, import its gas, mostly via pipeline – in 2020 its biggest supplier was Norway, followed by Russia.

The French government has launched a sobriété energetique (energy sobriety) plan to cut its total energy consumption by 10 percent this year, which it hopes will allow it to get through the winter without Russian gas. 

Riots

Even before the recent €65 billion aid package, the French government was taking a pro-active role in helping people deal with rising prices – from the price shield to fuel rebates for drivers, €100 grants for low-income households and financial aid for industries such as agriculture and logistics so they could avoid passing prices on the consumers.

Cynics say this happened for two reasons – because there were elections in April and June and because the French would riot if their utility bills suddenly doubled.

There’s a kernel of truth in both – cost of living became a major issue in the April presidential elections and one that far-right leader Marine Le Pen very much made her own from early in the campaign, leaving Emmanuel Macron slightly on the back foot, although in truth his government had already introduced several measures to ease the burden on ordinary voters.

It’s also true that the French have a robust approach to holding their government to account, and high living costs have previously inspired noisy and sometime violent protests – the ‘yellow vest’ movement of 2018 and 19 began as a protest over living costs.

But it’s also true that the French State is generally quite involved in people’s everyday lives – as evidenced by those monthly gas and electricity price rates – and taking a laissez-faire approach such as that seen in the UK would be unusual for any French government, even outside of election season.

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