SHARE
COPY LINK

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.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

CULTURE

12 books that tell you (almost) everything you need to know about France

From history to food, manners to politics, there is a lot to understand about France - so we asked our readers to recommend the best books to help explain the country.

12 books that tell you (almost) everything you need to know about France

Political tomes, comedic autobiographies, foodie guides and profiles of great Frenchmen – via a children’s classic – here’s what they recommended. 

A Year in Provence

Peter Mayle

It’s a book that had to be here. It may now be over 30 years old, but Mayle’s seasonal diary of an immigrant life in rural Luberon is as French life-affirming as it gets.

It’s not all rosé and roses – January’s bitter mistral is something to be endured rather than enjoyed even by the locals – but the travelogue offers more than a hint of Provençal life, where time runs … differently. There’s no wonder it sparked an exodus.

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Simon Schama

To even begin to know modern France, you need to know the French Revolution.

Enter Simon Schama, whose landmark work charts the social and cultural history of the defining period of French history. You may even recognise a modern politician or two in the study of the leading lights of their age. 

France

Emile Chabal

Hardly an original title, but this brief history of the country from 1940 through to the gilets jaunes protests of 2019, explains in just 180 pages how the past 80 years of history have led to the wonderfully, frustratingly, complex country that France is today.

The Discovery of France 

Graham Robb

Anecdotes and thumbnail sketches of people, places and customs combine to tell the history – and the story – of France. It’s like you’ve travelled across the country without actually travelling across it. France: An Adventure History by the same author is also well worth a read.

Deep France

Celia Brayfield

Along similar lines to Mayle’s A Year in Provence, Brayfield chronicles life in La France profonde of the Béarn, in the shadows of the Pyrenees. Tasty recipes – thrown in for free – are an added bonus.

One More Croissant for the Road

Felicity Cloake

It’s hard to argue with the notion that gastronomy is a pretty crucial part of French culture. For this book, food writer Felicity Cloake cycled 2,300km across France, tasting as many regional specialities and local dishes as she could along the way.

The result is part travel guide, part food book and part love letter to France and its cuisine – a different and very delightful way of viewing France. 

A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle

Julian Jackson

This multi-award-winning biography of wartime-leader-turned-president Charles de Gaulle, published in 2019, draws on a vast range of published and unpublished memoirs and documents.

De Gaulle is a pivotal figure in modern French history and this book reveals a lot about the man himself, and also about the country he fought so hard for, which eventually rejected him.

Revolution française: Emmanuel Macron and the quest to reinvent a nation

Sophie Pedder

Love him or hate him, but few can deny that Emmanuel Macron has also made a huge impact on more recent French history, and this book from Economist journalist Sophie Pedder traces his rise.

The book ends with Macron’s 2017 election, and obviously much has happened since then, but it still provides a fascinating insight into Macron and Macronism which helps to make sense of the turbulent times we are living through?

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French

Jean Nadeau

Jean Nadeau sets about unravelling the riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma that is France.

It’s aim is a look at the culture and social mores of France – revealing the secret ideas about land, food, privacy and language and weaves together the threads of French society, uncovering the essence of life in France.

Le Petit Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just a children’s book. It’s a philosophical, humanist, tale of a fantastical journey of self discovery.

It may not help with the day-to-day trials of living in France, but it may give you an insight into the contradictions and mindset of many French people. With 140 million copies sold worldwide, it’s one of the best-selling and most-translated books ever published.

A Year in the Merde

Stephen Clarke

With names changed to protect the innocent – and the author – A Year in the Merde chronicles the semi-fictionalised year in the life of a Briton in Paris.

Clarke has been described as the anti-Mayle, with his rather more acerbic view of French life – and Paris clearly isn’t Provence. But it may help you get served by even the grumpiest Parisian waiter; how to make perfect vinaigrette every time; and how not to buy a house in the French countryside…

A History of Modern France – From the Revolution to the War with Terror

Jonathan Fenby

If you didn’t study French history at school, sometimes you need a primer to help you put France’s history in context.

Fenby’s book does just that, taking a broad sweep over 200 years of French history and guiding the reader through the many turbulent changes in society and politics. Need to understand the current parliamentary deadlock? It all goes back to Charles de Gaulle, who was influenced by the politics of the 20s and 30s . . . demonstrating why history is so vital to understand a country. 

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this article. Did we miss one? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

SHOW COMMENTS