From The Times October 26, 2009
French expatriates in UK to have MP in national Parliament
Adam Sage in Paris
In the exclusive streets of South Kensington, a battle is looming over who will be chosen as, in effect, Britain’s first elected representative to the next French parliament.
Legislation has been passed to give French citizens who live abroad their own MPs in the 2012 national elections. The law creates 11 constituencies for expatriates — a move that officials say is without international precedent.
The third constituency covers the UK, Irish Republic, Scandinavia and the Baltic states. But 102,470 French voters are registered in the UK, compared with 22,071 in all the other countries that make up the seat, and authorities believe that the real number of French residents in Britain is at least double the official figure. The winning candidate will therefore effectively be an MP for Britain, say French officials.
The post will be prestigious, with constituents including some of France’s most successful figures, such as Arsène Wenger, the football manager, Marc Lévy, the country’s bestselling author, and Renaud, a pop star.
Jockeying has already started, with UK branches of French parties trying to resist moves by their headquarters to nominate Paris heavyweights for the seat. The UK-based politicians say that people already established in Britain would have a better chance of being elected.
The campaign will centre around South Kensington — a bastion of the French community — where les candidats are looking to establish offices. Polling stations will be set up in the Charles de Gaulle lycée in London, as well as other places frequented by the French — which could include cafés, according to Hervé Fabre-Aubrespy, the government adviser overseeing the move. Postal and electronic voting will also be allowed.
“It is a challenge for us, because nothing similar has ever been done anywhere,” said Mr Fabre-Aubrespy. Although Italy and Portugal elect MPs to represent citizens living abroad, “no one has carved the world up into constituencies in this way”, he said.
British citizens who live overseas, for example, vote in the constituency that was their last address before leaving the country. After 15 years abroad, they lose their right to vote. Similar rules have applied in France until now.
The initiative stems from a promise by President Sarkozy to “reinforce the link between the Republic and its expatriates” — estimated at up to 2.5 million worldwide. Axelle Lemaire, of the opposition French Socialist Party in London, said: “French people who live abroad must be represented to defend their living conditions . . . Their current representatives do not have the political weight to do that. It is a democratic anomaly.”
But she accused Mr Sarkozy of “butchery” in drawing up districts which critics say are designed to enhance the prospects of his party. There is also anger over the abolition of 11 constituencies in France to make room for those abroad.