With the first round of voting in French presidential elections over and the second round just over a week away, the question of whether foreign residents should have the right to vote in local elections has surfaced as a potentially influential campaign issue.
Under current law, EU citizens can vote in local elections, but Socialist challenger François Hollande has proposed extending that right to non-EU residents of France.
Current centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to emphasise Socialist challenger François Hollande’s proposal in order to turn far-right immigrant-wary National Front voters against him. The 18 percent of the French electorate that cast their ballots for Marine Le Pen are indeed now up for grabs as the president and his rival approach what could be a close runoff vote on 6 May.
Some of Sarkozy’s surrogates, including his campaign spokesperson Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and his Union for a Popular Movement party leader Jean-François Copé, have attacked Hollande and his Socialist party for his stance on the issue.
In a televised debate Monday night, 2007 Socialist presidential candidate and Hollande’s former partner Ségolène Royal, specified that foreigners’ voting rights were “not a priority” for Socialists. But wary of appearing inconsistent at the most crucial point of his presidential run, Hollande swiftly sought to reaffirm his support of a measure that would allow these residents to vote in local elections. “Everything that I’ve talked about in my campaign, all my policy engagements, will be done in the first five-year term,” he said on a campaign stop in northern France.
Sarkozy’s shifting stance
Sarkozy himself has changed position on the subject. Appearing on TV on Tuesday morning, he expressed his opposition to a measure that he “never implemented” and “never wanted”. “Do you think that the French people want a government, a president, who thinks giving foreigners the right to vote is a priority?” he bristled.
But in 2005, Sarkozy noted in an interview with daily newspaper Le Monde “that it would not be abnormal for a foreigner with working papers, who pays taxes and has lived in France for at least 10 years, to be able to vote in local elections.”
Before that, in 2001, Sarkozy had already stated that he was in favour of foreigners voting in local elections in his book “Libre” (“Free”). “As long as [foreign residents] pay taxes, respect our laws, have been living on our territory for a certain amount of time….I don’t see how we can logically deprive them of a means of expressing their opinion on what their life is like,” he wrote.
Today, the president justifies his about-face on the issue by pointing to changing times. “I think that 15 years ago, the risk of cultural ghettos was not what it is today,” he explained Tuesday during his TV interview.