French Court confirms exclusion of Brits from municipal elections

The Council of State, France’s top administrative court, has confirmed that Britons in the country can no longer stand as candidates in municipal elections as a result of Brexit.

The Court was seized by a UK citizen living in Dordogne, a department with a large British population. The person (whose name is not public) was elected councillor in 2014 and was hoping to run again in the local elections of 15 and 22 March 2020.

The right to vote and stand as candidates in municipal (and European) elections for EU citizens living in other EU countries derives from EU citizenship, which is automatically acquired by nationals of European Union member states. As the UK withdrew from the EU, British nationals lost EU citizenship on January 31st 2020.

In preparation for Brexit, on January 23rd the French Minister of Interior invited prefects to inform mayors of the consequences of the UK withdrawal from the EU. Like many others, the British councillor from Dordogne received the notice of his future ineligibility. He then decided to launch a legal challenge to maintain his political rights.

After the Court of Bordeaux rejected his plea, he brought the case to the Council of State. He called for the suspension of the ministerial order and for the possibility to be re-registered in the electoral roll to stand in the March election.

He also sought to obtain a ruling from the European Court of Justice on the “fundamental status” of EU citizenship (meaning it cannot be removed). Similar cases were previously attempted in the Netherlands but did not succeed.

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The lawyers argued that the measures put in place by the French government were disciminatory and “manifestly illegal” as they undermined fundamental rights, and that the loss of EU citizenship is contrary to the principle of “legitimate expectations” and legal certainty under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Julien Fouchet, the lawyer supporting the case, told Europe Street that there should be a “proportionality review” on the loss of EU citizenship. “The impact of the loss of EU rights for British citizens in the EU can be huge, from being removed from office to having access to children’s education. British in the UK could also be severely impacted, for example if they have family members in the EU. An assessment on whether the impact of the measures put in place by the withdrawal agreement is proportional to their purpose has not been carried out,” Fouchet said.

On Friday February 21st, however, the Council of State rejected all arguments. The Council referred to the entry into force of the withdrawal agreement and confirmed that, as non-EU citizens, UK citizens are no longer eligible for office in France. Unless they hold another EU passport, Britons will thus be excluded from March municipal elections, which involve some 35,000 towns, including the city of Paris.

At present, some 2,500 of France’s 495,500 councillors are citizens of other EU states. Brits were so far the most numerous (757), followed by Belgians, Portuguese and Dutch, according to data cited by French newspaper Ouest France.

In some EU countries Brits can still vote

Britons elected in most other EU countries face a similar fate. It has been reported that the Scottish mayor of Brunsmark, a village near Hamburg, Germany, lost his seat after 12 years in office because of Brexit.

But some EU countries allow residents to take part in municipal elections regardless of their nationality.

In Finland, any person who is 18 and has resided in the country for at least two years can vote for local councils. In Denmark and Sweden the residency requirement for non-EU nationals is three years.

The Danish parliament has also adopted a transitional scheme that continues voting rights in municipal, regional and European elections for Britons who were “permanently residing” in the country on January 31st 2020.

The Netherlands allows all citizens who have resided in the country for at least 5 years and have a valid residence permit to vote in municipal elections.

Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg signed bilateral agreement with the UK to maintain voting current rights for their citizens.

And the UK electoral commission has confirmed that EU nationals will be able to vote in council’s elections this May.

Nowhere to vote

On the other hand, Brexit will deprive some other British citizens living in the EU of all voting rights. Under UK law, Britons who have lived abroad for more than 15 years cannot take part in UK elections and parliament’s attempts to revert this rule have failed so far.

So those who cannot vote in the UK and live in countries where they can no longer participate in local elections will be left with no voting rights at all.

On February 18th Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to World War II veteran and citizens’ rights campaigner Harry Shindler saying the government intends to scrap the 15-year rule.

“Now we have left the EU, it is more important than ever to strengthen the UK’s ties with the British expat community,” the Prime Minister wrote. But the letter did not say when detailed plans will be announced.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo by Conseil d’Etat, available under a Creative Commons license.

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