On the French campaign trail - in London

If you're an expat living abroad, a presidential election in your home country can often have little effect on you - after all, you pay taxes, and use a health and education system, in the country where you actually live. French expatriates, though, are being put at the heart of this election race - Nicolas Sarkozy has created 11 new constituencies just to represent them. They've carved up the world into chunks with roughly equal numbers of French voters - so an MP based in London and voting in Paris will also represent voters living in Finland and Latvia. Sarkozy's UMP have been accused of a gerrymandering attempt here, because so many French expatriates are high earners who have effectively fled the tax system at home and are unlikely to vote for the left, but socialist candidate François Hollande threw himself with gusto into the race for this electorate on Wednesday, with a campaign trip to London - demographically France's sixth biggest city, with 300,000 citizens of l'Hexagone in residence.


He was greeted by crowds of applauding supporters at St Pancras, mostly young and often female; belying the stereotype of the London-based Frenchie as, as the Independent put it "a besuited banker who works in Canary Wharf and lives in South Kensington". The latter are the people Sarkozy was talking to when he visited the City before his election in 2007; and there are still plenty of French bankers in London who will certainly be kept away by moves like Hollande's planned 75% tax ate for the highest earnings. Now, though, the average French expat in the UK is younger and more likely to work in the public sector. It's indisputable that a lot of French people abroad, especially young graduates, have chosen the more flexible 'Anglo-Saxon' economic system over one where they find it impossible to get in to the job market, but they 're certainly not politically uniform. There was a big turnout at Hollande's London rally on Wednesday night; and the expats France24 talked to were enthused about the idea of having their own MP, saying it's great to be included in the political process back home, and feel they're still important to the candidates. The socialist candidate to be these voters' MP, Axelle Lemaire, went further - saying she hopes to fill a democratic deficit for a chunk of people who aren't being properly represented at all.


Whatever you think of the idea of having MPs for expats, what they'll actually be able to do is fairly limited; there is around 900 million euros of French public money spent every year on things like cultural programmes abroad, so they may be able to influence where that goes, but essentially the move is symbolic. It helps expatriates feel they've not been forgotten, and lets politicians look cosmopolitan on campaign visits. I still think, as I argued in a post here a few months ago, that EU citizens should be allowed to vote in the country they live in, and not the one for which they happen to hold a passport.


Here's our TV report on the expat vote in London, and don't forget you can get more French politics with me on France24 every weekday morning at 9:50 Paris time.



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