French to elect the member for South Kensington

Gallic diaspora given own representatives in French parliament
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Indy Politics

It already has its own French language school, French consulate and French cultural institute, now South Kensington is to get its own representative in the French parliament after a law was passed in Paris meaning that French nationals living abroad will be able to elect their own MPs.

In an attempt to give their two million expatriates more of a political voice, French MPs have created 11 new constituencies. The third such constituency covers Northern Europe, including the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

But because there are around 102,000 French people living in the UK – five times more than the number in all of the other countries that make up the seat put together – it is already been dubbed the South Kensington seat after the area of London most popular with the ex-pat French.

"It is a challenge for us because nothing similar has ever been done anywhere," said Hervé Fabre-Aubrespy, a government adviser who is organising the move.

But there was little support for the move in West London yesterday where many French residents expressed concern that the majority centre-right UMP party will use the changes to increase its support in the French parliament by parachuting in Sarkozyste candidates for the newly created seats.

"We already have representation in the form of the Assembly for French People Abroad," said Nicolas Bounet, a 38-year-old teacher. He added that expatriates would be better served by a more powerful version of the existing system.

"Currently we elect representatives for the Assembly; they have no legislative power, but they represent our interests as expatriates. It would be much better if we just gave that institution more power rather than manipulating the current parliamentary system."

Chloé Arnoux, a 22-year-old law student, said: "This is not going to be a positive step, because it is just a way for the politicians to manipulate the system to their own ends."

However, Natalie Perrier, a 35-year-old banker, said she would welcome greater representation. "I would be interested to see how it works but, in theory, it is great. It is always a good idea to find ways to represent the views of the electorate," she said.

Under the French constitution, the interests of French ex-pats are represented in the senate as the Assembly of French People Abroad elects senators.

"You can't find a more remote and indirect way of electing representatives. The influence of a new MP is going to be diluted amongst the existing 576," said Florence Potot, a French lecturer at the University of Northumbria.

"This is just another excuse to carve up the electoral map in mainland France. Expatriates are usually more educated and better off than the average French person and are therefore more likely to vote for a conservative party," she added.

Under the proposed system, the world outside France will be divided into 11 constituencies. Each will return one MP to the French parliament after the 2012 elections.

French authorities believe that the real number of French residents in the UK may be double the official figure of 102,470, compared to 22,071 in the rest of the Northern European seat. French officials said that the winning candidate would therefore effectively be an MP for Britain.

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