Here in Kent, a French voter told me that about 5 000 French citizens were eligible to vote in the elections for the legislature (the equivalent of the House of Commons). The number for all French voters resident in London is 112 815, so greater than the numbers calculated for a constituency in England (just under 75 000). Unlike the system for English citizens wishing to vote from abroad, the French system actually recognises these voters abroad as a separate constituency, with specific interests to be promoted by the politician they choose to be their delegate to the legislature.
French citizens abroad have their own constituencies
For English voters abroad, you have to keep updating your electoral status in the constituency where you used to live, thus assuming that your main political interest remains unchanged and located in that place. This may not be the case, as when you are immersed in a career overseas, you may gain new perspectives and different political interests (such as a view on the fact that UK State pensions are frozen for those contributing from overseas).
In any case, after 15 years overseas, the UK system used to disenfranchise you completely, even though by that time you might be in receipt of a British pension, so clearly still interested in the doings of the British government and management of public funds. Commendably, this is about to change as recent legislation will now allow those resident abroad for more than 15 years to remain voters, though still via their old constituency.
And now for something completely different…
The French system is completely different, and has six constituencies for French voters residing outside France. One of these is for the French of Northern Europe, an area that includes Scandinavian countries, the Baltics, the Netherlands and the UK, with a total number of voters (168,869).
At Kent Bylines, we try to follow the politics of the other side of the Channel, especially because some of the proposals will affect us jointly on either side, such as anything that relates to Getlink, the company that runs the Channel Tunnel, and any proposals about cross-Channel trains. We have recently made contact with one of the candidates for the election, Artus Galiay, who is punting for an additional rail operator to run cross-Channel trains that stop in Kent.
First round results announced
The results of the election for the Nord d’Europe constituency have just been announced: Alexandre Holroyd, the sitting candidate, who is for En Marche (the party of Macron) has come first with a large majority of 14 576 (12 578 from England), the next is Charlotte Minvielle (of a left coalition, NUPES) with 11 390 (8 185 from England) then Laurence Helaili-Chapuis (Independent) with 3 623, then Artus Galiay (les Républicains, to the right of Macron) with 2 302 (1 928 from England).
Other candidates, from the further right, including the Rassemblement party of Marine le Pen got less than this. The overall turnout was about 25 percent, so similar to the turn out at many UK local elections, but lower than for national ones. Constituencies for those resident in France achieved some 49 percent turnout in 2017. The two leading candidates (Holroyd and Minivielle) now go forward into a run-off election on 19 June.
A handful of manifestos
With a view to understanding better the political view of the French residing among us, this article will now summarise the main points of the manifestos of four of the leading candidates.
Alexandre Holroyd (En Marche) summarises his manifesto as being in support of President Macron, pro-Europe, for full employment and ecology. “We will, together and with you, construct a new epoch, French and European.” His ten more detailed proposals are:
- For our Europe – collective sovereignty, reforming the EU, facing together the challenges ecological, social and technological
- Confronting climate change and appointing a Minister for ecology
- Preserve purchasing power and keep taxes low
- For gender equality
- For education to enhance social mobility and remove inequalities
- For the elderly, funding for home adaptations
- To ensure all those entitled can receive public aid
- To reform the retirement system to make it more equal and give new rights
- For health, to solve the problem of “medical deserts” where there are inadequate health providers
- Security: more forces on the ground, cyber security, prepare the military force for the future, their equipment and innovation in the service of peace
Charlotte Minvielle (NUPES coalition = La France Insoumise, PS, PCF, the Greens)
- More ambitious goals for lowering carbon emissions by 2030
- More sustainable agriculture, not industrial production cruel to animals
- Fairer taxes, with a renewed tax on capital gains (ISF)
- Working hours of 32 per week for the most strenuous occupations
- Minimum wage of €1 500, and youth grant for independent living
- Democratic planning for ecological justice with new indicators
- More public service and less privatisation
- Retain right to retire at 60 years
- A citizen’s referendum to end presidential monarchy
Laurence Helaili-Chapuis (Independent)
- Improve consular facilities for the French abroad
- Protect rights of French citizens in the UK, with regard to tax, social security and retirement, and also enhance French enterprise which invest in the environment, and assist with professional mobility
- Expansion of French language classes in northern Europe
- Public support for cultural initiatives
- Security of French resources and enterprises and show solidarity rapidly especially towards Ukraine. New systems of alert must be invented.
Artus Galiay (les Républicains)
- Democratise teaching of French, with bilingual classes, French-English
- Strengthen the transport lines cross-Channel, especially with a new rail operator to compete with Eurostar
- Reinforce ties both economic and human between France and the countries of northern Europe:
- For the UK – to relax some of the post-Brexit phytosanitary checks
- For Ireland – strengthen ties post-Brexit
- With regard to Scandinavia, France should aspire to a Scandinavian model of society
- For the Baltics, in first line of defence against Russia, strengthen ties with Iceland, cooperation with regard to renewable energy
- Improve consular service, especially with online access
- Support the projects of French people abroad, such as rugby matches, book collections of French books for schools, or business meetings to help investment and export.
Comparing these four candidates, each of whom was supported by more than 1 000 voters, it is easy to see that the winning candidate is the most strongly pro-Europe, and that the NUPES candidate of the Left has the most ambitious Green proposals. The pension age is an issue here in the UK too, as medical intervention pushes up longevity and the ability of people in their sixties to remain in work. As in the UK, France used to pay retirement grants to the over-sixties but, finding this is too costly, is now trying to increase the age of retirement upwards.
The matter of the monarchical presidency requires some understanding of the French constitution which gives more power to the President than to the Prime Minister. A French President is not just a ceremonial post, or one to guarantee the constitutional law in a political crisis, as it is in some other European countries like Germany: a French President has considerable executive power.
Significance for Kent
What readers in Kent will be interested in is the politics of strengthening ties with France. Artus Galiay is the only candidate exploring in detail the prospect of cross-Channel trains that stop at Ebbsfleet and Ashford. He is also keen on strengthening links, both entrepreneurial and in sports. He is in a good position to assist with this, even though he will not now be in the legislature, because his day job is in the HQ of economic development for France Nord in Lille, and his job description includes being an economic ambassador for that region to the UK.
It is for this reason that Ashford LibDems made contact with him, hoping to plan a meeting to discuss further possible cross-Channel projects. The featured picture above shows some local LibDems with Artus outside Ashford International Station, to signify this joint wish to strengthen ties.