The UK – Represented in the French Parliament?

Who would have known that the statue of Nelson at Trafalgar Square would one day look over a French Parliamentary constituency?

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François Hollande visits Westminster with Ed Miliband
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Anthony Pickles
On 19 March 2012 08:05

The reduction in the number of MPs at the next General Election and fairer sized constituencies has proved to be something of a talking point at Westminster, but imagine for a moment if we were aiming to have constituencies for some of our British expats. “Costa del sol West” or “La Dourdogne Central”. That’s exactly what our French neighbours are doing with the newly created constituency of “Northern Europe.”

This constituency will take in the Irish Republic, Scandinavia, the Baltic States and the United Kingdom. With 113,655 registered French voters in the UK alone, French politicians will find themselves heading off on the Eurostar to the streets of West London to campaign.

Back in 2007, the then French Presidential candidate, Nicholas Sarkozy headed off to Old Billingsgate Market for a pre election rally even before the idea of a constituency outside of ‘l’Hexagone.’

Back in February, François Hollande, the French Socialist candidate made a visit to London at a time when he was espousing higher taxes in France, a firm commitment to heavier regulation and taxation on banking and finance. Not the normal policies of somebody on the look out for votes near the City of London.

The French have long had representation in l’Assemblée Nationale from outside France, allowing deputés from l’Outre Mer to take their seats in le Palais de Bourbon in Paris. MPs from la Réunion in the Indian Ocean sit next to their counterparts from Alsace and le Massif Central.

What is fascinating about this move is that it demonstrates the impact of a rather major and silent demographic change in recent years. Some estimates say that around 350,000 French émigrés now live in London alone. Take a walk around South Kensington and the sight of French bistros, coiffures, and boulangeries make it evident how prominent that population of this part of London now is. Even the Lycée Français de Charles de Gaulle on the Cromwell Road is run by the French National Ministry for Education.

It has been said that President Sarkozy has made his frustration about the number of French people moving to London clear because many are wealthy, upwardly mobile and attracted by the City of London, something which goes against the eagerness of Mr. Sarkozy in introducing a Financial Transaction Tax across Europe.

Since the early 1990s, the numbers of people crossing the channel to settle in London and the UK has been on the increase. Many feel the economic flexibility of Britain and the higher salaries in key industries such as finance are catalysts for this trend.

There is no doubt too that the UK’s geographic proximity to ‘la patrie’ means that they are never too far away from home. In fact, a Eurostar can get you from London to Paris quicker than you can be in the North of England. This has often be cited as one of the main reasons the UK appeals to French tastes, it has all the Anglo Saxon appeal of New York or San Francisco but only 22 miles across the English Channel.

The Institute for Public Policy estimate that there are some 5.6 million expatriate British living in all corners of the globe. It is interesting that similar ideas have hardly been floated in the UK. Electoral Commission guidance says that if you have lived outside of the UK for longer than 15 years, you automatically lose your right to vote. It would be hard to argue that somebody living outside of the UK for longer than 15 years should have the right to influence an election for those still residing within the UK.

As an admirer and a former resident of France myself, I will watch with interest the result of the election in the “Northern Europe” seat and whether it has any correlation to the result of the French election in several weeks time. How will a French MP in l’Assemblée Nationale represent his or her constituents? If there are problems with the drains or bin collections, will they write to le deputé or their MP in Westminster?

Who would have known that the statue of Nelson at Trafalgar Square would one day look over a French Parliamentary constituency? 

Follow Anthony Pickles on Twitter @AntPickles

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