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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

‘Momentous’ – The new French citizens voting for the first time

Millions of people headed to polling stations across France to vote in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday. Among them are thousands of new French citizens who took nationality in the last four years. We spoke to some of them prior to polling day.

The hands of a voter and an election official over the ballot box as a vote is cast at a polling station in France
A voter casts his ballot for the first round of France's presidential election at a polling station in Paris. Thousands voted in their very first French election on Sunday. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Only French citizens can vote in presidential elections in France, but the country has relatively generous rules about acquiring French nationality, either through residency or through voting, and in the last four years many readers of The Local have done just that.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Throughout the day, many social media users took to the internet to express their joy at being able to cast their vote for the very first time. 

On such person, Kat Borlongan, tweeted: “I arrived in France in 2002 as an immigrant from the Philippines. It has been nearly two decades that I have waited for the day when finally, my voice counts at presidential elections. Message from a new citizen: Go and vote today.”

Erin Douglas, meanwhile, likened the uttering of à voté (have voted), which is what officials traditionally declare after someone votes in France, to celebrating a “democratic touchdown”. 

Alex Taylor, who also voted in his first French presidential election said he felt “emotional”. 

“The little English boy that learned to conjugate his French verbs never imagined that one day, someone you say to him, a French citizen… à voté!”

Haxie Meyers-Belkin, a journalist with France 24, described voting for the first time as “momentous”. 

In the weeks leading up to the election, we asked many of our readers how it felt to head to be able to vote in French elections for the first time. All of the new citizens who responded told us that they intend to vote, and many had very personal reasons for doing so. 

Kathleen Gray, who has lived in Paris since 1984, told us that being denied the right to vote in 2016’s Brexit referendum prompted her decision to apply for French citizenship, and regain her right to a say in her chosen country’s politics.

“As soon as the Brexit referendum was announced in 2015, I submitted my application for French citizenship as I was outraged that UK nationals resident in the EU had no say in a decision that could deny us our EU citizenship,” she said. 

“The denial of our right to vote in the referendum also triggered my desire to acquire full voting rights in France by obtaining French nationality. 

“A French passport protects my EU citizenship, my right to live here, and the right to vote in presidential and legislative elections. I feel sorry for the younger generation of Brits who have lost the right to free movement and for small companies that are facing huge obstacles to exporting goods to the EU.”

Another long-term French resident, Jill Brown, said: “It will be great to finally have a say in electing the next president of France having lived here for over 50 years, and seen presidents come and go from De Gaulle to Macron!”

And Zoe de Crecy said: “It’s a great time to have gained French nationality because there is so much happening. It’s exciting to know I will have a say in the way things can move forwards for future generations.”

The UK’s departure from the European Union was a key driver for many respondents to apply for French citizenship. 

READ ALSO Why do French elections normally have two rounds?

Timo Elliott voiced the views of a number of respondents: “I wasn’t able to vote against Brexit because of the 15-year limit. I woke up stunned the day after the referendum and immediately started the procedure to become French.”

And he linked his voting rights to politics in the UK. “Now that I’m a citizen, I feel it’s my patriotic duty to vote to help make sure France avoids the anti-immigrant xenophobia that lead to such a catastrophic result.”

As Lynda Bellaiche, who has a property in Paris but lives most of the year in Gard, said: “I have felt European for a long time now, but I must admit I feel very proud to have the right to vote here. This will be the first time in my 75 years that I will vote for a country leader. 

The right to vote, she said, made her feel ‘more French’.

“When I left the UK in 1968, we had no rights to vote abroad, the right to vote from abroad for 15 years came into being in the Eighties. It is more logical anyway to vote in the country in which one lives and obviously makes us ‘more French’.”

She said that she always went along to the polling station with her husband when he went to vote, and encouraged their children to use their ballots at every opportunity. 

READ ALSO 10 phrases you will definitely hear during the French presidential election

“The longer I lived here, the more I wanted to vote,” she said. “Many years back, pre internet days,  I collected signatures for the petitions which finally gave the right to us Brits in Europe to vote at the European and then the municipal elections.

“Now I can take part in national elections, I feel finally equal to my French friends and family. And when people, hearing my accent, ask my nationality now I always say I am British and French. 

“The truth is, in my heart I will never be 100 percent French and I am definitely not 100 percent British anymore. It was very comfortable for me being British and part of Europe.

“Apart from giving rights of residence, which I didn’t really think about before as it was pretty easy renewing my carte de sejour, the biggest change honestly, when taking French nationality, is the right to vote. I was very happy to participate in the regional elections last year, which was a first.”

Robin Ellis agrees, admitting that ‘I’ll never be French’, but saying the right carried a feeling of being “more legitimate, perhaps – less of a parvenu/arriviste. It is a very good feeling. And there is the added thrill of being, once again, ‘European’.”

Linda Garmy said of the right to vote that citizenship has bestowed: “I feel more fully integrated into French society. I take the right to vote very seriously.”

READ ALSO What are the rules for French presidential candidates appearing on TV?

Member comments

  1. The trouble with the naturalisation process is that it takes so long ! I had my interview in Bordeaux (after two years of completing all the paperwork) and the interviewer said that everything was completed now and would be sent to Nantes. That was last September, and I have heard nothing yet…. the same with my application for a driving permit. I do wish that these government departments would get their acts together, because, in my opinion, the service is bordering on disgraceful. I have lived here for 15 years and would simply like the right to vote in my local and general elections.

  2. In Ireland we have a diaspora that don’t yet vote in our elections, plenty of them would love to. I like the French way of voting with expats allowed to vote.

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BUSINESS

‘I’ll never complain about URSSAF Again’: How two British brewers made it in France

Two months after brewing their first-ever beers in 2018, likely lads Tim Longstaff and Ash Smith bought a professional beer-making kit and started a brewery in the French Alps. Now, they sell 30,000 pints a month...

'I'll never complain about URSSAF Again': How two British brewers made it in France

“Sometimes opportunities just present themselves,” was the modest way Tim Longstaff described his and business partner Ash Smith’s successful decision to open a small craft brewery in the French Alps despite having no brewing experience and little experience of running a business in France.

“In France you could see, if you looked around in Lyon or Paris, that craft beer was happening here,” he said. “There’s that cliche that France is 10 years behind the UK – it was inevitable there would be a craft beer boom here, like there had been in the UK. 

“We thought if we don’t do it, someone else will.”

Nine years earlier, new graduate Tim had headed to the Alps for a seasonal job on the slopes. He had, by his own admission, no idea what to do next with his life, but thought idly that opening a brewery in the mountains might be ‘cool’.

“I moved here in 2013 to do a ski season in Les Arcs,” he said. “I came over after university when the craft beer scene had exploded in the UK. I was always surprised there was no good beer here.”

“I went back to the UK for a while and moved back to Chamonix in 2017 and – again – there was no good beer. Me and Ash Smith, my business partner, were bored of drinking crap, fizzy lagers, so we decided we’d learn to brew and start a brewery.”

From such crazy ideas, successful businesses grow. The location was right. The business was right. The timing was – just about – right.

“It was winter, January 2018,” Tim, 30, said. “We decided we’d start learning to brew. We bought some small homebrew equipment, 25-litre stuff. I did our first brew in March 2018. And in May 2018, we signed all the paperwork for a 500 litre brewing equipment with four 1,200-litre fermentation tanks.

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“We installed it in October – Nov 2018. That was our first winter season – we were running as a proper brewery, brewing 700 litres at a time. 

“We went from literally reading a few books and watching some Youtube videos, we produced one beer that we thought was reasonable, and that was it. We went to the bank, got a loan, put some money in ourselves and went for it. It was pretty ballsy, I guess.”

The pair’s Sapaudia Brewing Co is ideally placed in Aime-la-Plagne, in the heart of the world’s biggest ski area. “In terms of a market, especially in the winter, we couldn’t have asked for a better location,” Tim said. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

“It was a bit of a risk, but we were both in a place in our lives where we decided to just take a punt. We knew we were at the start of something in France. When we set up, there were two other breweries in this area – they were quite small – and there are now about 14 breweries of different sizes within an hour of where we are.

“A friend has a really small brewery that does 100 litre brews that he only sells in his restaurant, and there’s us who sell 30,000 pints a month in our biggest months. And there’s everything in between in this area.”

A business loan got the pair started, even though, in Tim’s words the bank’s business manager ‘didn’t have a clue what we were on about’, but getting through to local bars was a different matter. 

“When we started chatting to bars, the two references for beer are the Belgian styles – they’re quite strong – and then everything’s by colour. 

“So we’d say, ‘we’ve brewed an IPA’ and they’d ask ‘is it a blond, or a blanche?’, and we’d say, ‘no – it’s an IPA’, and no one knew what that was. They’d call it a blond because it was the same colour as a blond beer. But now IPA has become a massive buzzword [here].”

It seemed the pair had tapped into something – but then Covid hit. And everything shut down. 

Tim believes that French government help for the hospitality industry played a key role in ensuring the new business that was just starting to blossom would survive. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

The support from the French government was nothing short of incredible,” he said. “If we had set up in the UK, I think we’d be gone. Speaking to friends in the UK who have businesses – the difference in the financial support we received was night and day.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever complain about paying URSSAF stuff again after the help we got.”

Even with all the help, times were hard. Neither Tim nor 43-year-old Ash could afford to pay themselves any wages from Sapaudia during the long lockdowns. “It was a case of reduce spending, pay the necessary bills – rent, electricity and stuff – and just try and fight through.”

Pivoting from working with businesses, such as bars, to sales with individuals was not straightforward, though they tried. “We’re set-up to do keg sales – getting in bars, on tap,” Tim said. “We did flip a bit – we tried to sell bottles but we don’t have a proper bottling machine. We’re not set up to do thousands of bottles a day. We did some 5-litre mini kegs which sold pretty well around Christmas time.

“But it was tough, especially round here. It’s a massive tourist area, everyone’s business was decimated. People have tightened their belts and haven’t been spending.” 

The business came through the Covid lockdowns intact. And it is now operating flat out. “As soon as everything opened up, orders started to come back – and they came back really strong,” Tim said.

“I was worried we wouldn’t be able to pick up where we’d stopped. I didn’t know how the market was going to be, but it was almost like nothing had happened. It was – bang – back to where we were.”

And the first close-to full winter season after Covid was just what the brewery needed – despite a scare when British holidaymakers were stopped from travelling by concern over the Omicron variant.

“This winter’s been massive. Everyone needed a big winter. The Brits getting banned from travelling back in December was a bit of a kick in the teeth for a lot of people. But, from February onwards … I can always tell how busy a week’s been by how many empty kegs we get back in a week. The week the British returned, our distributor had to bring a lorry – there were six pallets of empty kegs. I thought “yeah – the Brits are back”.

More official help for the business came when they were looking to hire a full-time employee. Pôle emploi offered to pay the wages of a local worker during a 12-week formation – and give Sapaudia €5 an hour on the promise he was given an open-ended CDI contract at the end of the period. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Having lived in France since 2017, neither Tim nor Ash – both of them originally from Stockton-on-Tees – found any problems applying for post-Brexit titres de séjour. 

“Politically Brexit bothered me,” Tim said. “Personally, I was here and had all the paperwork, so when I went for my carte de séjour, it was almost too easy. “France made the system really easy and wanted people to stay.”

From a business point of view, however, there have been issues. “We used to work with UK suppliers – we used to get branded beer glasses from a firm in Halifax, and got other bits of promo material from Britain and we’ve had to stop using them. A lot of them won’t ship to us because it’s too much of a headache.

“The company that print the beer glasses told me they are not allowed now to print the CE logo onto the glass … we get our glasses from Germany now.

But he knows other local businesses have found it harder than they have. “The majority of our clients here are British-run bars and they struggled so much to get staff this winter.”

READ ALSO ‘So many barriers since Brexit’: The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits

And, despite the forced two-year break due to Covid, Tim’s sure he and Ash were right to take a risk four years ago.

“No one saw the pandemic coming – I don’t think you’d take a risk on anything in life if you thought there’d be a pandemic round the corner. 

“In terms of our numbers, when we did our business plan, we’re exactly where we projected we’d be, with a two-year delay because of Covid. Everything’s going the way it should be, it’s just that we were put on pause.”

Now, they’re looking to grow, and take the business year-round.

“I just got off the phone this morning with an equipment supplier. We want to expand in autumn 2023. This winter we reached capacity of our current equipment – and we’re having to throttle sales back a little. 

“We’re massively seasonal – winter’s really big, and we’re working to make summer as big as winter so we have a distribution partner in Lyon and we’ve got a sales rep working in the west coast in the Hossegar area.

There’s a reason that their business plan jumps from the mountains of the east to the shores of the west. Many people who spend their winters in the Alps head for the surf towns of the Atlantic in the summer. The idea is to let word of mouth from the east spread their IPA gospel in the west, too. And in cans, too. Part of the next phase of the firm’s could include an online store, selling Sapaudia beer to individuals across France. 

 

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