The question of whether foreigners have a right to vote in local elections is a sea serpent in French political life. A hundred times, under all the mandates of previous presidents, the project has been put on the table and debated, and a hundred times it has been rejected. François Mitterrand said he was in favour of it in 1981, without actually doing anything about it. Nicolas Sarkozy claimed in 2007 his support for the idea, before retreating from this position once he was elected.
Emmanuel Macron, in his second term, must now tackle this thorny issue. The foreigners’ vote was among one of President Macron’s campaign promises, which explains its early arrival on the agenda of the deputies. In the middle of the summer, a new bill was tabled by the chairman of the law commission, Sacha Houlié, belonging to the presidential majority. The right to vote for foreigners will once again be argued in the autumn, even before the opening of the great debate on immigration proposed by the president, which is to be held in October, according to arrangements that are still unknown.
The vote has little chance of succeeding. It will most likely pass the National Assembly with the help of votes from the Left: the ecologists are in favour of it, and describe it as “obvious.” Manon Aubry, on behalf of La France Insoumise, explained that her party “would be eager to vote” for this law. But the right-wing majority in the Senate will certainly block it.
Strategically, the Macronist majority has every interest in positioning itself in support of this divisive issue to heal its Left fringe. The opposition, embodied by the Rassemblement National (RN), has unsurprisingly made known its total and absolute rejection of the project. “When it comes to immigration, these irresponsible politicians never take a holiday,” tweeted RN MEP Philippe Olivier on Tuesday, August 9th. For the RN, the right to vote must remain intimately linked to the question of citizenship, otherwise the very idea of ‘nation’ will end up dissolving into nothing. Jordan Bardella, a candidate for the presidency of the national Right party, warns of the risk of “final dispossession of the French from their country.” The Les Républicains MP Eric Ciotti considers this bill to be a “provocation.” Communitarian and foreign pressures have clearly been at work on the occasion of the presidential election of April 2022, exploited by the candidate of La France Insoumise Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin is, for his part, hostile to this bill. But Sacha Houlié still wants to remain confident. He relies on polls proving the growing support of the French, for several years, to allow foreigners a say in local elections: 62% of them, in fact, according to a 2020 poll. Since the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, foreigners born in an EU member state can already vote in local elections, but this is not the case for non-European foreigners: a “discrimination” which, according to Houlié, is set to disappear as public opinion evolves.
However, it is not certain that the 2020 survey—repeated today—would give the same results.