Thursday, 30 July 2009
Who would be the first British Costa Brava MP?
The French government published on Wednesday the final version of the new parliamentary boundaries for the election of the next Assemblée Nationale in 2012.
This redistricting is the first implemented since 1986 and the French Constitutional Council had been pushing the issue for a long time. The Council advocated in particular a rebalancing of the size of constituencies: the biggest mainland constituency (6th of the Var) was 6 times bigger than the smallest (2nd of Lozère).
The French media is for the moment concentrating on the evolutions in mainland France where 27 départements lose 1 or more MPs and 15 départements gain more MPs. In 25 other departments, constituency boundaries will move even if the number of MPs stays the same. Predictably, the debate consists mostly of accusations of gerrymandering from the opposition and protestations of fairness from the government.
However, this debate (while probably worthy of another article some day) misses the biggest novelty of the new system, and probably the most favorable to the ruling UMP: the creation of 11 constituencies representing French citizens established abroad. These new MPs will represent the 1.27 million French citizens registered at French consulates around the world. Currently, they can only vote directly to elect the president, representatives in a consultative body (Assemblée des Français de l’étranger) and participate in national referendums. Their parliamentary representation was limited to 12 senators, elected indirectly by the Assemblée des Français de l’étranger.
The constituencies will elect a single MP and represent geographic zones with approximately 115,000 registered expatriates. For example, 1 MP will represent North America, 6 will represent European constituencies (including one composed of the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and Baltic States, probable heavily dominated by the votes in London) and 1 will represent an enormous constituency including Russia, Iran, Asia (except the Middle-East) and Oceania. These MPs, like all the others, will be elected in a two-round voting system, where every candidate getting 12.5% of registered voters in the first round can take part in the second.
The obvious reference point to simulate the result in these constituencies is the second round of the 2007 presidential election. The turnout for French expats was 42% (way lower than the amazing overall turnout of 84%) and the result was 53.99% for Sarkozy, 46.01% for Royal, an 8% majority for Sarkozy, as compared to his 6% overall margin (53.06/46.94).
Using the boundaries of the constituencies created yesterday, Sarkozy won 9 and Royal won 2. The creation of MPs for expats is thus apparently beneficial for the right and a possible way to ease the way for a third UMP term, unheard of for any French majority party since 1981.
Italians abroad are also represented both in the National Assembly (12 seats) and the Senate (6 seats). However, these parliamentarians are elected through PR, limiting their impact on the national majority.
These facts might interest some of you as new aspects of continental politics but it is also a question for British politicians: if 1.3 million French expats are given direct parliamentary representation (even if it’s only 2% of MP seats), what about the estimated 5.5 million British abroad?
At present, every British citizen who has been registered to vote in the UK within the last 15 years is eligible to vote in UK Parliamentary (general) elections and European Parliamentary elections in the UK. British living overseas thus vote in their constituency of origin, either directly or through postal/proxy voting. This has certainly an impact on turnout, especially as their issues as expatriates are probably not dealt with during a GE campaign.
Thus, here are my questions to pbers: do you think the UK should create parliamentary constituencies representing British abroad? If so, how many and who would you think would benefit from such a move? And what do British expats posting on PB.com think?
Chris (from Bethesda)
The author is a French expat living in the USA