British voters to rule Dordogne

Local politicians in the Dordogne may soon have to cope with a new force in French politics - the British vote, writes Mary Dejevsky.

Britons resident in France should be able to vote in the next local elections under reciprocal arrangements being introduced throughout the European Union. A draft law approved by Paris this week would give all legally resident EU citizens the right to vote in local, but not national, elections. It will go before parliament in the autumn.

There are more than 1.5 million EU citizens resident in France, many of them Britons. While the numbers of new voters are unlikely to change the overall results, concern has been expressed that in areas where foreigners are concentrated, the traditional political complexion could change.

The Dordogne, in the south- west, has been cited as one such region because the indigenous population comprises mainly agricultural workers who tend to vote Socialist, while the incoming Britons, Germans and Dutch tend to be middle-class and more likely to vote for the moderate right.

The proposals are likely to be controversial with groups representing the interests of France's non-European residents and immigrants. They are not permitted to vote unless they have French citizenship. Before the last local elections, two lobby groups led a campaign for all non- French permanent residents to be given the right to vote in local elections to try to give immigrants a stake in the political system and a say in their community. Officials argued that citizenship entailed rights and duties, and the right to vote could not be granted in isolation.

There had been hopes that France would introduce the provisions in time for the new EU voters to take part in this year's local elections, but the drafting of legislation was deferred until after the presidential election, which meant that it also missed the local elections. The next local elections - by-elections apart - will be held in six years' time.

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