French residents in the UK find themselves as caught up in their home country’s presidential election battle as their counterparts across the channel. They can no longer look on from afar and just cast their overseas votes on polling day. They are now part of one of France’s constituencies and hence the candidates are coming knocking on their doors.
In 2008 the French Parliament passed legislation giving French citizens living abroad the right to elect their own politicians. One of the constituencies encompasses Northern Europe: included in this zone are the UK, Ireland and the Baltic States. They will elect an MP for the National Assembly elections in June. However with the presidential elections being held at the end of April, with a run-off on May 6, the candidates are also campaigning for their party leaders to be installed in the Elysee Palace.
We have already seen Nicolas Sarkozy use a press conference with British Premier David Cameron to boost his poll standings by arm-twisting his Tory counterpart in to saying nice things about him. Given their fracas at recent EU summits the words must have stuck in Cameron’s throat like a stale croissant. Sarkozy’s socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, who the opinion polls suggest will oust him from office, has also been to London in February. Officially it was a visit to see the Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, and his team. He was shunned by Cameron but no doubt gave a Gallic shrug as his real target was the UK’s French voters.
It is not difficult to see why. Ten countries are incorporated in the Northern Europe constituency but 80 per cent of its voters are in the UK and 80 per cent again of them live in London. Hence the 102,470 voters in the UK can expect a lot of French kisses over the election period. Also the number of French people living in London is steadily increasing so this constituency is going to gather rather than decrease in importance – indeed the overall constituency has the third highest number of French residents abroad.
The Parti Socialiste’s candidate in the UK constituency is Axelle Lemaire who previously worked as a researcher for British Labour MP Denis MacShane at the House of Commons. She has been campaigning for Hollande and the PS throughout the length and breathed of her constituency and believes the anti-Sarkozy feeling in France has crossed the border.
Lemaire was born in Canada to a French mother and a Quebec father. She moved to France as an adolescent and studied law at l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris and King’s College in London. Aged 37 she has resided in the UK for ten years and considers London to be her home. Lemaire says: “The sense of outrage I feel about injustice and social inequality has always motivated my involvement in community life and political activism.” She adds : “The desire to make a difference, to serve others and help change society, with dynamism and integrity, is the driving force of my life” a driving force that has led her to being the PS candidate for the Northern Europe constituency.
So why should the French citizens in the UK and indeed back home vote for Hollande. Lemaire is in no doubt arguing: “Vote for François Hollande if you believe in social fairness, if you think that austerity is not the solution, if you believe that France’s human and cultural values should be defended and held dear, not insulted for political calculations. Vote for Francois Hollande if you believe in change and in the healthy renewal of French politics, after more than ten years when conservatives have been in power. Vote for Francois Hollande if you care about education and growth, his two priorities.”
Emma Reynolds is the Labour Party Shadow Minister for Europe. Like many politicians she talks the Euro talk but also can walk the walk. Indeed as she may have walked the walk first as before becoming an MP in 2010 she worked in Brussels for the Party of European Socialists as an advisor to Robin Cook. She is in no doubt over the importance a Hollande victory holds not just for France but Europe. She stated: “The victory of Francois Hollande is crucial to both the future of the European Union and the future of the left in Europe. I am hopeful this his victory will spark a revival of social democracy in Europe and that he can focus the mind of European leaders on growth rather than austerity alone.”
Who becomes France’s next president will be decided on May 6 but it may well be French voters in London who hand the keys to the Elysee to the final victor.
(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on April 5 2012).
(Photograph courtesy of Axelle Lemaire)