Monday, 29 October 2012

Will foreign residents get the right to vote in France?

At the Socialist Party conference in Toulouse on Saturday, recently elected Socialist Party leader Harlem Désir caused a stir when he reminded the crowd of President François Hollande's pledge to give foreign residents the opportunity to vote in local elections. This certainly would help foreign residents to participate and become more involved in public life and seems fair seeing as they pay full taxes. Only residents that reside within the EU can vote in local elections. The UK currently allows citizens of the European Union and commonwealth citizens to vote in local elections in the UK.


This longstanding bill has been in the pipeline for a number of years now and was originally promised by former Socialist president François Mitterrand during his 1981 campaign. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy opposed the bill even though he backed it during his presidential campaign in 2007.  Further delay has now occurred with it looking unlikely that the bill will have enough support over the next six months for it to become law in time for the 2014 local elections. In 2000, France’s lower house agreed a bill giving all legal foreign residents the right to vote in local elections—but it was never finalised with the upper house. There is now a petition on the UMP website to oppose the bill with one of their reasons being that this will thwart the "blue" tidal wave at the next local elections.

75 Socialist French MPs presented a petition in Le Monde urging the current government to move faster on plans to give foreign residents the right to vote and run as candidates in local elections. Not all Socialists are in favour of the bill however, with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault describing the bill as “controversial” and “lacking support in parliament” in an interview with radio station France Inter last Wednesday. Adopting this bill would need another get over another major hurdle which would be a change in the French constitution which states that electoral rights are reserved to "French nationals “only. There are also fears that if the bill is adopted the Front National could use it as a platform for negative campaigning against the Socialists.

A poll on the topic by French daily le Parisien in late 2011 found 61% of respondents agreeing that foreigners should have the right to vote in France’s local elections. A more recent poll published last month found the exact opposite result, with 61% of respondents against the bill. Time will soon tell whether Hollande’s election promise can be fulfilled.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Hollande plans first major trip to Africa

François Hollande is in Africa for the first time as president to begin “a new chapter” in French relations with the continent. Before his trip to open the 14th Francophone summit in which it was not sure that he would attend, he gave a major interview to France 24, where he stated that he would not be sending further troops to Mali but would provide logistical help, equipment and training. The north of Mali militants allied to al Qaeda, have declared this region’s independence since April 2012. Hollande said that it should be Africa that should decide what the response should be.

Hollande will acknowledge on his trip the role that France had played in colonisation and the trans-atlantic slave trade. There will also be a focus on growth; many African economies are growing at a faster rate than those within Europe. Hollande will promote French economic interests in the continent, which already accounts for 1/5 of business operating in Africa. Hollande declared in a speech which was well received, that it was time for new, “sincere” relations between his country and the fast-growing economies of Africa. Hollande went on to say:

“I didn’t come to Africa to give an example, or to give moral lessons. I consider Africans to be partners and friends”

The speech was in stark contrast to Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who said in a speech that was criticised by many and had members of the audience walking out in protest, in Dakar five years ago that the African man “has not fully entered history (...) never really launched himself into the future.”

The future of the French language will also be debated. Today 220 million people speak French across the world, but by 2050 there will be 700 million French speakers, most whom will be in Africa.

The summit will host 75 delegations in Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, where the transparency of the presidential and legislative elections that took place in November 2011 have been questioned.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Strasbourg killing raises fresh questions about integration in France

The killing in Strasbourg on Saturday by French police once again raised the issue of integration and immigration in France, particularly as this is the second terrorist killing by police in the past year.
There are also 11 members of a suspected terrorist cell being questioned by police following dawn raids in Nice, Paris and Cannes.

These raids were sparked by a grenade attack on a Jewish shop on September 19th, where police traced DNA results to the prime suspect, Jeremy Sidney, to inform their raid operation on him in which Sidney opened fire on the police.

Sidney, a recent convert to Islam, was 33 years old and a French national. He was also an ex-prisoner, who was convicted for drug-trafficking.

Earlier this year, in March, Mohamed Merah was killed by police in Toulouse after a sickening attack on members of the Jewish community, in which where four soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi were killed. Merah claimed his actions were directed against France’s military presence in Afghanistan, the killing of Palestinians and the ban on wearing the full face veil.

The weekend’s shootings have once again brought race and immigration to the top of the political agenda.
After the raids, President Francois Hollande said:

“The state is determined to protect the French people against any terrorist threat.”

The threat is still ongoing as the raids found money, ammunition and a list of Jewish groups throughout the Paris region. In response to Merah’s killing in March, France’s cabinet is currently reviewing a new anti-terrorism bill targeting French citizens who travel abroad, notably to Pakistan or Afghanistan, for possible terrorism training.

It is anticipated that if passed, the bill will allow authorities to prosecute French citizens who return to the country after:

“…having committed an act of terrorism abroad, or who travel overseas, particularly to the Afghan or Pakistan region, to train in terrorism camps with the intention of coming back to France.”

The situation at present is that police can only act when offences are suspected or committed in France.  This is just one measure France seeks to undertake to tackle the terrorist threat within its borders and the rise of attacks targeted towards the Jewish community.