While most of France goes to the polls to vote in first round of the législatives on Sunday 11 June, 1.3 million French nationals living abroad were invited to do so on the 4th. The reasons are very straightforward. Initially, it had been planned for these voters (and those in French Polynesia) to vote on the 11th, like everyone else, but electronically. However, advice to the government from the agency responsible that they could not guarantee the process would be free from cyber attack, led to the decision to move the date and hold the election in the usual way.
This is only the second time that French expatriates have voted for members of the National Assembly. The 11 seats were created in 2008, as part of a raft of constitutional reforms introduced by Nicolas Sarkzoy, and so elected in 2012. However, until then, expatriates were represented in the Senate, and have been since 1946.
The notion of expatriate representation may seem odd to the British mind, but it exists in a number of political cultures, often when there are large numbers of expatriates living and working in bordering states. It would be nice to be able to say that, in France, the representation in parliament of all French citizens, wheresoever they may be. dates back to some great revolutionary precept of inalienable rights and so forth, but it’s rather more prosaic.
During the Second World War, both the Vichy Régime and de Gaulle’s Free France competed for the support of France’s colonies. After the war, it was deemed essential that the colonies had direct representation in parliament. In addition to the Empire, that is to say the colonies governed directly from Paris, France exercised control over a number of protectorates (Morocco, Tunisia, French Indochina, for example) and it was seen as expedient too to ensure that French nationals there had some sort of representation. In 1946, the representatives of ‘les Français établis hors de France’ sat in the upper house, then known as the Council of the Republic.
Gradually the number of seats increased, but when the Fifth Republic was created in 1958, they continued to sit in the upper house, now called the Senate. Indeed, one of the Senate’s special vocations, between 1958 and 2008, was the representation of expatriates. By then there were, and there still are, 12 seats in the upper house, elected by 155 delegates to the Assemblée des Français de l’Étranger. These delegates are in turn elected by ordinary citizens. Senators are all elected indirectly. (I’ll explain about this when I cover the Senate election in September.)
The colonial origin of the seats is undeniable, but by the 1980s it had become less obvious, with senators being elected because of an expertise regarding the situation confronting expatriates in particular parts of the world. Often, though not exclusively, they were and are businessmen and women or former diplomats. Perhaps the best example was Xavier de Villepin, former chairman of Saint-Gobain and father of the French foreign minister (2002-2005) and prime minister (2005-2007), Dominique de Villepin
Sarkozy’s decision to create 11 seats for expatriate deputies has its genesis in the exponential increase in the numbers of French nationals moving abroad to live and work from the 1990s onwards, both in the EU and North America, as well as the more traditional regions of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Some readers will know the story about Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux, meeting Boris Johnson, when the latter was still mayor of London. Juppé mentioned that he was mayor of a city of 200,000 Frenchmen and women, to which Johnson is supposed to have replied something along the lines that he had twice that number in London.
In part, Sarkozy had a practical interest in capturing the votes of a mostly educated and affluent electorate. To qualify to vote, French nationals had to register with the consulate in the country they had settled in. While professionals with families would probably do that, young, single people, perhaps less likely to vote for the right, might not. In the event, in 2012, the seats split up pretty evenly.
The constituencies are divided on a geographical basis, with one for the USA and Canada, another for Mexico and the whole of Latin America, a third for ‘northern Europe’, which includes the UK, another for the Benelux countries, and so forth. Wikipedia has a perfectly accurate and serviceable account of the seats and population size here.
The results of the elections on 4 June were, as expected, massively in favour of Emmanuel Macron. The president took 40% of the expatriate vote in the first round of the presidential elections on 23 April and 92% in the second on 7 May.
His La République en Marche (LRM) party lead after the first round in 10 of the 11 seats. In the third constituency, which includes the UK and Scandinavia, his candidate has secured 57% of the vote. But that is not enough to be automatically elected, because here as elsewhere the turnout was very low – only 19% overall (compared to 40-50% in the presidential elections among expatriates). While this is a feeble retrun, it's worth poiting out that polling stations are not always close to where people live. Contrary to what the French press will tell you, not all French nationals in the UK live in London and work in the City.
On the whole, on the basis of the results in these constituencies, it is noticeable that not just the left Parti Socialiste but also the right-wing Les Républicains are taking a hiding from Macron's LRM. The only exception is in the 8th constituency, which covers Italy, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, where the outgoing LR candidate is only one point behind the LRM one, at 35% plays 36%.
Meanwhile, the Maghreb and West Africa constituency has set the record for the largest number of candidates in these elections, with 27, five of whom claim they are part of the 'majorité présidentielle'.
The extremes are nowhere to be seen. Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon don't have much time for expatriates. And the feeling is mutual.