French polls – a reminder of post-Brexit voting limbo

A pedestrian looks at offical mayoral campaign posters displayed in front of a polling station in Paris, France, 9 March 2020. [Ian Langsdon/EPA/EFE]

France’s municipal elections on Sunday (16 March) will be a major test for President Emmanuel Macron in the wake of popular protests by the gilets jaunes and over controversial pension reforms. They will also be the first such polls in which British citizens in France will not be able to vote.

For the moment, the UK government is seeking bilateral agreements with the EU-27 on the voting rights of EU nationals in the UK and their UK counterparts in the EU.

EU citizens will be able to vote and stand in the May 2020 local elections in England, which include the London mayoral and Assembly elections, and the May 2020 Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales.

But the long-term future of EU voting rights remains unclear.

In a letter from the UK’s Cabinet Office responding to the New Europeans campaign group, seen by EURACTIV, the government stated that “the rights of EU citizens to vote and stand in local elections have not changed following the UK’s exit from the EU”.

“We are seeking reciprocal bilateral agreements to maintain this right. We have now reached bilateral agreements with Spain, Portugal, and Luxembourg that will secure the rights of UK nationals living in these respective member states,” it said, adding that “this is a positive step forward in our future relationship with these member states and we hope this will encourage similar bilateral agreements with other member states”.

Denmark is among several EU countries that already grant third-country nationals the franchise but France and Germany are among the majority of countries which currently do not.

Boris Johnson’s government has so far rejected plans to extend the franchise for the EU nationals to general elections, refusing to match pledges made by the opposition Labour party ahead of December’s general election

Full voting rights are currently limited to citizens of the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries, and campaigners fear that Johnson’s government might move to restrict the local government franchise to British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens, in line with the rules for general elections.

An estimated one million EU nationals are believed to have been denied their right to vote in last May’s European elections, the last before the UK formally left the EU on 31 January.

The voting rights of Britons abroad post-Brexit are also in the air, although the Conservative government has pledged to overturn the 15-year rule which prevents UK citizens who are long-term residents overseas from voting in general elections.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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