France to distribute 40 million free face masks to its poorest people

The French government has announced that it will distribute 40 million free masks to people living in precarious conditions.

France to distribute 40 million free face masks to its poorest people
Masks are now compulsory in indoor public spaces in France. Photo: AFP

Health minister Olivier Véran announced on Wednesday that the state would begin distributing the free washable fabric face masks to 7 million of the poorest people in the country.

It comes after criticism that the new rules on compulsory mask-wearing in indoor public spaces placed an extra cost burden on the poorest families.

READ ALSO IN DETAIL When and where do you have to wear a mask in France?

Health minister Olivier Véran says the masks will be posted out. Photo: AFP

Many local mairies distributed free washable fabric masks back in May when France began loosening its lockdown, but the new state initiative focuses specifically on people living in poverty or precarious situations.

The masks will be posted out to seven million people who are in receipt of complémentaire santé solidaire, the complementary top-up health insurance that people living on low incomes are entitled to.

Véran said: “It is obvious that France will not leave people unable to wear masks.

“We are going to send 40 million washable masks for the general public, which can be used 30 times, in order to provide for seven million French people who are at the poverty line – beneficiaries of the complémentaire santé solidaire.”
People who are in receipt of the benefit do not have to register, the masks will be sent to them automatically through the post.
French newspaper Le Parisien calculated that a family of four, where both children are over the age of 11, would have to spend €228 a month on masks if they used disposable masks, or €96 if they used washable fabric masks.
The new mask rule came into force on Monday and makes it compulsory to wear a face mask in all indoor public spaces including shops, public transport, covered markets, banks and places of worship.
For the full list of places a mask is compulsory, click HERE.
Failure to follow the rule can earn you a fine of €135, although Véran says he hopes that people will wear them out of a sense of civic duty and wishing to protect the most vulnerable in society.


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Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

Foreigners living in France could get the right to vote in certain elections if a newly-created bill passes through parliament.

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

The newly elected president of the National Assembly’s law commission calmly lobbed a 40-year-old electoral hand-grenade into the political discourse of the summer – and then went on holiday.

Sacha Houlié, MP for the Vienne and a member of Macron’s LREM party, filed a bill on Monday that would, if passed, allow non-EU citizens living in France to vote and stand for office in local elections. 

Under current electoral legislation, only French citizens can vote in presidential and parliamentary elections; EU citizens in France can vote in local and European elections; and non-EU citizens have no voting rights in France whatsoever. 

EU citizens can also stand for office in local elections, but are barred from becoming mayor or running for a seat in the Assembly.

Since Brexit, Britons in France have not been allowed to vote in local or  local office, any many Brits who were on their local councils had to resign because they were no longer EU citizens.

Many countries limit voting for their citizens who are out of the country, so non-EU citizens living in France often do not have the right to vote in any country.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and the far-right Rassemblement National wasted little time criticising Houlié’s bill.

Darminin’s entourage said that the minister was “firmly opposed” to the idea.

The far-right party went further. “We have crossed the limits of indecency and incomprehension of what the French are asking for,” Rassemblement national spokesperson Laurent Jacobelli told Franceinfo, echoing the sentiment of the party’s interim president Jordan Bardella, who insisted the passing of the bill would mark the, “final dispossession of the French from their country”.

Houlié said: “The right to vote for European Union nationals in local elections already exists in France. No one is surprised that a Spaniard or a Bulgarian can vote in municipal elections. But it has surprised many people that the British can no longer do it since Brexit.”

Given the current shape of the Parliament in France, it seems unlikely that the latest bill will pass. But it is far from the first time it has been on the table.

François Mitterrand had pledged during his presidential campaign in 1981 to ensure “the right to vote in municipal elections after five years of presence on French territory.”

But, in the face of opposition from the right, he backed down from this particular promise. 

In October 2004, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, tried to move forward with an electoral plan that would have allowed non-EU citizens certain voting rights – but was blocked by his own UMP party.

François Hollande re-launched the proposal during his 2012 campaign, before quietly letting it go in the face of opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.