France calls on Euro-citizens to sign up for polls

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The Independent Online
IT WAS just eight minutes after the town hall opened yesterday that I had the paper proving I had registered to vote in France in the European Parliament elections in June.

The registration paper, issued in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, carried the number 000004, showing that in the three weeks since European Union (EU) nationals have been entitled to register, an average of one a week has done so.

By the simplest calculation, this would mean that 80 of the citizens of France's 11 EU partners are likely to have registered in all the 20 arrondissements of Paris. With France numbering 95 departments, this could logically indicate that 7,600 EU nationals have decided to exercise their right to vote in France - or 0.58 per cent out of a potential 1.3 million.

On 15 April, the voters' lists in France, which opened on 14 March, will close and Alain Lamassoure, the European Affairs Minister, yesterday held a press conference to appeal for more Europeans to come forward. The number so far was 'relatively limited', he said. There had been 'a few thousand while we would like to see a few hundred thousand'.

The decree changing France's electoral law was published on 10 March after parliament approved the bill on 5 February.

The time the authorities had to inform EU citizens in France 'is very short, it's too short. We couldn't do better,' said Mr Lamassoure. He said he was now relying on the information campaign and the media to convince foreigners in France that 'it's not a joke'.

To register in France, EU citizens have to fill out a form giving the name of their parliamentary constituency in their home country and a promise not to vote both in France and at home.

Mr Lamassoure said the penalties for fraud under France's election law, running from fines to terms of imprisonment of up to two years, could be applied in cases of abuse. His aim, he said, was not necessarily for all EU residents to vote in France but for '100 per cent of them to be informed'.

So far, no non-French candidates have emerged among those representing the main political parties.

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