This is the English Language Version of my article Norvégienne, je ne pensais pas ne pas pouvoir voter au pays des droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, published in the Huffington Post, 26/04/2021
As a Norwegian, I did not imagine that I would be denied the right to vote in the country of human rights
It is interesting to see that an argument that was used against women’s suffrage in France reappears in the discussion against the right of foreigners to vote: the fear that this would endanger the Republic.
Today, on 26 April 2021, I would like to commemorate the referendum on women’s suffrage that took place in France on 26 April 1914 by comparing the struggle for women’s suffrage to the struggle for foreigners’ voting rights. On this day, the newly established European network Voting Rights for All Residents (VRAR) will celebrate the “International Voting Rights Day for All”.
“To the polls, all women citizens! Yes or no, ladies, will you vote?”
This is the beginning of the manifesto of the editor Gustave Téry, published in the daily newspaper Le Journal on 9 March 1914. It aimed at documenting, by means of their own poll, that the French women wanted the right to vote.
In collaboration with associations for women’s suffrage, a referendum was organized by Le Journal on 26 April 1914, the same day that French men went to the polls to elect deputies to the National Assembly.
The result was a great success, 505,972 women put the ballot paper “I want to vote” in the ballot box, and only 114 voted against the right to vote.
“France was one of the last countries in Europe to introduce women’s suffrage”
But politicians’ opposition to women’s suffrage was strong, especially in the Senate. Their reasons ranged from the argument that women were not made for politics to the argument that it was feared that women would vote under the influence of the Catholic Church and their vote could therefore be dangerous for the Republic.
It was not until 30 years after the referendum, and a century after the introduction of universal male suffrage in 1848, that the French women were granted the right to vote on 21 April 1944, by a decree signed by General de Gaulle. France was one of the last countries in Europe to introduce women’s suffrage.
Norway introduced active and passive voting rights for women in 1913, making it the second country in Europe after Finland in 1906 to give women universal suffrage.
In Germany, women have had the right to vote and stand for election since 1918.
As a woman, I feel very touched by the struggle of women for the right to vote. I am grateful to them for their courage and perseverance, which were essential for the introduction of women’s suffrage in countries around the world.
Today, as a Norwegian in France, it is no longer the lack of women’s suffrage that prevents me from voting, but the lack of the right to vote for foreign citizens who come from countries that do not belong to the European Union.
Participating in democracy, going to the polls, has always been important to me. In Norway, the right to vote and stand for election for foreigners in municipal elections (kommunestyrevalg) and regional elections (fylkestingsvalg) has been a matter of course since 1983. Originally from Germany, I was able to vote in municipal and regional elections in Norway in 1983 and 1987 before acquiring Norwegian citizenship in 1988.
When I settled in France in 2012, it did not occur to me at all that I would not have the right to vote in local elections in the country of human and civil rights.
“In Norway, the right to vote and stand for election for foreigners in local and regional elections has been a matter of course since 1983.”
In my municipality I can become a member of the associations and participate in events. I can follow the meetings of the municipal council and become a member of a working committee of the municipal council with an advisory vote, but I do not have the right to vote in the local elections. I contribute to the financing of my city’s budget, but I have no influence on the distribution and use of taxes because I have no right to vote.
Why does France not allow foreigners to have a democratic influence on local decisions that directly affect them? Why does integration stop at the participation in the democratic process?
Like women’s suffrage, the right of foreigners to vote has a long history. It was promised by President François Mitterrand in 1981, then again by President François Hollande in 2012, but it was never adopted.
It is interesting to see that one argument against women’s suffrage is resurfacing in the discussion about foreigners’ right to vote, and that being the fear that foreigners’ votes endanger the Republic.
According to a statement by Prime Minister François Fillon in a debate in the Senate on 8 December 2011, the proposal to adopt the right to vote for foreigners is “an undermining of one of the foundations of the Republic”.
Henri Guaino, special advisor to President Sarkozy, commented on 24 November 2011 in the programme “Le rendez-vous RFI – France 24” that it would be “disastrous” to introduce the right to vote for foreigners in local elections. He could not see “where the difference is between local and national elections”, adding that, moreover, local elections serve to “elect the senators who make national policy”.
What Presidential Advisor Guaino forgot to say, is that Paragraph 88-3 of the French Constitution was amended on 28 July 1993 (regarding the participation in elections of foreigners from the European Union).
“The right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections may be granted only to citizens from the Union residing in France. These citizens may not hold the position of mayor or deputy mayor, nor may they participate in the appointment of deputies for the election of senators and in the election of senators.”
“I contribute to the financing of my city’s budget, but I have no influence on the distribution and use of taxes because I have no right to vote.”
This amendment to the French Constitution is thus unmistakably clear that the foreign deputies in the local councils have no national function.
Why this bitter fight by French politicians against the right of foreigners to vote in France, when in Norway the opportunity to engage in democracy is seen as an important means of integration?
Emmanuel Macron did also state in 2019 that he is not in favour of voting rights for foreigners. He prefers that foreigners residing in France apply for French national citizenship.
It seems that the President of the French Republic is at odds with the population, because according to an opinion poll by Harris interactive in January 2020, 62% of French people are in favour of extending municipal and European voting rights to non-EU foreigners residing in France.
And I, a foreign resident in France from a country that is not part of the European Union, I want to vote.