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‘We’ve talked about leaving’ – foreigners in France fear for their futures if Le Pen is elected

Fears over discrimination, loss of access to healthcare and being unable to stay in their homes - these are the fears facing foreigners in France if Marine Le Pen wins the second round of the presidential election.

'We've talked about leaving' - foreigners in France fear for their futures if Le Pen is elected
Marine Le Pen. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Long-distinguished by her anti-immigrant views, far-right leader Marine Le Pen now has a real possibility of becoming the next president of France after what is expected to be a close contest in the second round of the French presidential election.

Her manifesto is full of promises to make moving to France, and living here as a non-French citizen, more difficult, so we asked readers of The Local how they feel about the upcoming elections.

More than 100 people responded, most of them foreign nationals living in France, the majority British or American, to share their views.

Overall, 94 percent of respondents said they were worried about the election result, 66 percent very worried, but two people told us that they were not worried at all and think Le Pen will make a great president. 

In general their worries covered three areas; practical issues such as being unable to renew residency permits or access healthcare, a culture of increased discrimination or hatred towards non-French people under a Le Pen presidency and worries about Le Pen’s actions on the international stage such as taking France out of the EU and NATO.

Several respondents said that a Le Pen win would result in them leaving the country, but many others felt that France is their home and they intend to stay here, even if life becomes more difficult.

Practical problems

Le Pen’s election manifesto contains a number of pledges that concern foreigners who are already living in France.

These include introducing a language test in order to gain long-term residency, reducing the access of non-French people to benefits and healthcare and expelling from the country non-French people who are out of work.

Proposals around residency cards would affect all non-EU citizens who are currently required to have a visa or carte de séjour, including Brits and Americans, while plans to limit access to healthcare and benefits could include all non-French people, including EU citizens.

Heather Gardiner, in Gironde, said she and her husband have discussed leaving.

She said: “My fear is that racial hatred escalates and foreigners – especially non-white people – become increasingly victimised. Also the possibility that we could lose our residency status – this is our home, I have retired but my husband still works here.”

Tom Crawford, in Corrèze, said: “I fear my citizenship application will stall; having been a victim of Brexit I will feel even more robbed of being a European.” 

Scheenagh Harrington, in Tarn, said: “I worry about the withdrawal of droit du sol [the right to citizenship for people born in France] – we have two boys who were born here and know no other life, yet they’ll be thought of as ‘foreign’.
 
“I’m also hugely concerned about the impact of a Le Pen presidency on the fabric of society – France can be a very casually racist country and this would make life unbearable for so many who have every bit as much of a right to be here as anyone else.”

Mary Vincent, in Puy-de-Dome, is considering moving to Spain if Le Pen wins, and told us she was particularly worried about access to healthcare. 

Karen Holmes, in Charente, agreed, saying: “Probably not much would change initially but access to health care etc may get harder. I’ve felt a hardening towards British people since Brexit – I imagine that’s not going to improve under Le Pen.”

Gail Sweeney, in Normandy, simply said: “We’ll be lucky to be allowed to stay in France.”

Discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment

Many people told us that they worried that simply having Le Pen in charge would embolden people to be hateful or discriminatory towards foreigners in everyday life.

This fear was particularly pronounced among Americans, who had seen the same thing happen under the Donald Trump presidency.

Parisian resident Rebecca Brite told us: “I’m an immigrant (American, here 40+ years, not yet naturalised). If the Trump experience is any guide, electing a proto-fascist will encourage others of that ilk to act more freely.” 

Emily G, also in Paris, is already researching jobs back in the US. She said: “The aggressive rise in hate crimes and open hate will manifest the way it did in the States following Trump’s “election.” We left the US to get away from that – and while we knew France wasn’t perfect (xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, etc.) it was still better than being back in the States. But we are a queer couple who fear a Le Pen presidency – will it be safe for us to exist here?”

Scott Mauldin, in Dordogne, said: “We saw from the Trump presidency in the US or after Brexit in the UK that an ascendant Far Right has consequences far beyond the policy decisions and actions of government officials; it is wind in the sails of racists and bigots, it is for many a call to celebrate ignorance and xenophobia.

“That is not the France where I wish to raise my son.”

Ian Hirst, in Creuse, said: “Whether or not her plans affect our residency directly (unknown under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement) the fact that other people who are here legitimately may be asked to leave fills me with horror and makes me doubt whether I would want to continue to live in a country with this mindset.

He added: “We’re looking at possible routes back to living in the UK which is also not very attractive with the current administration. As pensioners though, affordability is a major problem to finance a move back.”

Maria Regis-Constant, in Nantes, is already considering moving, saying: “If the majority of people vote Le Pen, I will take it as a clear message that I am not welcome in this country. Nor is my child, who is mixed race.”

John Ramsden, who lives in Charente, added: “Her right-wing government could lead to an increase in violence, hatred and intolerance of anything not in line with her ideals. She is, after all, a supporter of Putin, and is likely to adopt several of his governing methods.”

Foreign policy 

Le Pen’s foreign policy would mark a major change in direction for France, since she is anti-EU, anti-NATO and over the years has been supportive of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

She has said that she would try to rebuild an alliance with Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

On the EU her policy has changed from advocating ‘Frexit’ in 2017 to her current policy of staying in the EU but refusing to obey EU rules on freedom of movement and refusing to make financial contributions – essentially amounting to a kind of ‘Frexit by stealth’.

Many British readers pointed out their own experiences of Brexit as a reason why exiting the EU would be a bad idea for France. 

Dylan Rubens, who lives in Paris, said: “I left the UK following the Brexit referendum, sad and disillusioned with what my home country had become – an isolated, xenophobic loner. I feel that Le Pen is the French Brexit – a manifestation of political and economic failures leading to a rise in right-wing populism.

“My biggest concern is that a Le Pen election victory welcomes and emboldens right-wing sexist and racist rhetoric into the mainstream and causes more division in France, in a way that Brexit did in the UK.”

Kathleen Gray in Paris added: “Her policies on Europe and immigration worry me most. She could do untold damage to the EU, which Macron has done so much to consolidate, and she would make the lives of immigrants a misery.

“She’s a self-seeking populist and it would distress me that a majority of the electorate don’t see this, in the same way as it distresses me that the British electorate (except for the Scots) are taken in by the self-interested lies of Brexit and Boris Johnson.”

Moving to France

Although most of the survey respondents already live in France, some were people who are either in the process of moving, or have a long-term plan to move to France.

Le Pen’s manifesto calls for an end all non-economic immigration, so several readers told us that they worried that their plan to retire to France would no longer be possible.

Susan Osborne, of California, said: “This is purely selfish, but my first concern would be my inability as an American to retire here. I already own a small apartment in Paris, so am fearful the visa process may tighten and we’re no longer welcome.

“Our country suffered greatly, and still does, since Trump. I don’t want to be anywhere near a population that backs someone like him and I’am afraid those supporting Le Pen have NO idea what’s in store for their home country. NONE of it is good.”

Sandra Wells added: “I am in the process of selling up in the UK and moving to Bordeaux which I having been trying to do the past two years but due to Brexit and the pandemic it had been difficult – now I am holding off due to the worry of Le Pen, if she wins the election in France I shall look to a different European country to move to.

“The Tories are bad enough in the UK – if the Extreme Right get into France they will destroy the country much the same as the Tories have over the past 10 years or so in the UK.”

Jim Gavin is currently house-hunting in France. He said: “I won’t change plans right now, as don’t think Le Pen will win, but if she did, we probably wouldn’t come. It’d be the end of of French dream (and the end of France in many ways, and a severe setback to the whole EU project).”

Support

But it wasn’t all bad – two people told us that they weren’t worried at all.

John Albert Marlow told us he thought Le Pen would be a great president, and Jennifer Willis in Paris agreed and said she thinks Le Pen will make her daily life safer.  

Member comments

  1. I have lived in France since 2004 when Bush invaded Iraq, and I left the US. This month I moved back to the US…reluctantly…and will only return to France for three months each year. No one was going to kick someone like me out of France; white, blonde, older, woman, retired with money in the bank.

    But I can’t live in a country full time that has become what I despised in the US. Why back to the US? Because I really have no choice at 81 years old. I’ve loved living in France, but it’s time for me to go.

  2. I equate this survey to the ones conducted in the USA before Trump was elected; almost no one left the country despite having said that they would if Trump was elected.. One big phony is Alec Baldwin, who should be in jail for shooting someone, he stayed for all of Trump’s mandate. The USA and the wrold were safer and more prosperous under Trump. Now 60% of the voters disapprouve of Biden whose weakness has led to the Ucranian war and worldwide runaway inflation.

  3. I’m a Brexit refugee who got his CdS last year (surprisingly easy it was too), we’ve had our apartment in Nice since 2014 and always intended it to be our retirement home for the large majority of the year. Not only did Brexit render that problematic but I’m unwilling to put up with Johnson’s hypocrisy, incompetence and lies and the inanity of a Cabinet with the likes of Truss, Patel and Rees-Mogg.

    I’ve been a big fan of Macron since his appearance as a major actor on the French political scene, so the possibility of living nearly full-time in a country run by him had a great attraction but the chance, no matter how improbable, that he may be replaced by Le Pen. It may seem unlikely but if the last few years, in particular 2016, teach us anything it is that stupid things (Brexit, Trump amongst others) that everyone thinks won’t happen can and will happen.

    I’m not at all worried for myself and my wife personally, even Zemmour would approve of us as ideal immigrants: white, formerly middle class professionals, guaranteed incomes well beyond the required minima from our pensions, substantial savings, home owners and tax payers, S1 holders to pay for our health care. The residence card and health care access come through treaties signed between the UK and France (as part of the EU) which it will be very difficult to withdraw so I’m not worried about those. but, like many of your survey subjects above, my main worry is what a Le Pen presidency would do both to France and wider in Europe. Her economic policies are incoherent and her social policies regressive and bigoted, specifically intended to both promote and pander to race hatred, as John Lichfield noted they are a deliberate attempt to dismantle the political consensus created in France over the last 75 years. What worries me most right now is that a crucial part in Round 2 is likely to be played by Mélenchon voters. ‘Not a single vote’ he says to them but the long-established political narcissism of the Left in France, which has led it directly to its current impotence, may well incline them to mischief making. I’ve been involved myself in UK politics since I joined the Labour Party at age 15 more than 55 years ago so I’m used to partisan feeling and the rough and tumble of politics (a contact sport) but I still get shocked (yes shocked) by the visceral hatred so many supposedly on the Left here have for Macron, simply because he broke up their little game five years ago and made them face reality. Let’s hope they don’t attempt to punish him because the consequences could be appalling.

  4. Surely neither Mr Marlow nor Ms Willis have read Madame Le Pens manifesto, nor listened to her speeches or interviews.

  5. The fears and concerns of many of the correspondents are understood and acknowledged, but they may be a bit overstated. Such experiences/future concerns are probably the case for those in similar situations in UK and USA. Experiencing a Trump administration environment when living in USA was not very pleasant, but I was fortunate not to be directly touched by any of his policy implementations. Back here in France, a Le Pen administration would not be welcome on my part, but I’d have some faith in the power of the May elections to limit immediate and devastating policy changes, backed by the slow pace of administrative change. My sense is that many of the correspondents are or intend to be retirees here; if so, and they have time to choose, be clear that whatever your status, being here means being fully engaged in and therefore experiencing everything that life brings when you change country. I have read reports of retirees who have saved and enriched the lives of some small villages-bravo to them. I doubt they’ll be resented just because a Right-wing President is in place.

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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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