French expats are set to elect their own MPs for the first time in 2012 as 2.5 million French people who live abroad will be allowed to vote in 11 foreign constituencies.
After decades of promises dating back to François Mitterrand, France wants to position itself as a model of expat rights and the world has been divided into constituencies creating new MPs for the United Kingdom and North Europe, the United States and even north and east Africa.
One of the most interesting constituencies will be the UK and North Europe covering four million square kilometers and with a huge concentration of French citizens. London alone has around 400,000 French expats and is sometimes described as Paris on Thames.
Axelle Lemaire, the Socialist candidate for the UK and northern Europe, believes that expats living in London will be eager to vote. London has the biggest concentration of French expats in the constituency. French people living in the UK are young, the majority under 40. There are more women than men. One third work in the public sector, especially in education. Most are family orientated, with more than three children per family.
‘Education and raising children with two languages is a big issue. There aren’t enough places in French schools,’ said Lemaire.
Emmanuelle Savarit, the north European candidate for Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, who runs her own consultancy firm in London, said that the main concerns are tax, education, health and pensions.
In the last presidential election, a majority of French expats worldwide voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, including in the UK. Of the new 11 foreign constituencies, nine voted for the right in 2007. In London, French expats are considered to lean right, but they don’t often turn out to vote. In 2007, the turnout was 30%.
An official said 100,000 French expat voters had so far registered at the London consulate.
British expats have long campaigned for their own MPs, especially those living in Spain on the Costa del Sol and in France in the Dordogne where there are a large number of British citizens. They argue that they should have their own MP at London’s Westminster to fight their corner on issues such as pensions, healthcare and property and tax issues.