French Vote Risks Overwhelming Country’s Consulates in Canada

By Julien Balkany on May 3, 2012

 

On June 2nd and 16th, for the first time ever, French citizens abroad will be able to democratically elect representatives to the French National Assembly. It’s an innovative and historic advancement in democracy which was spearheaded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. But there’s a glitch – and it’s a big one.

Some 80,000 French citizens residing in Canada will, in principle, be making their way to the polls. The Canadian government opposes this election, characterizing it as a threat to sovereignty, stating: “The Government of Canada will continue to refuse requests by foreign States to include Canada in their respective extraterritorial electoral constituencies. Also, the Department will not allow foreign governments to conduct election campaigns in Canada or establish foreign political parties and movements in Canada.” Although neither the vote itself, nor its outcome, has any bearing whatsoever on Canadian affairs, and the elected representative will be seated in Paris and represent only French people, the government’s position remains steadfast – even more so than countries like North Korea and Iran. As such, polls must strictly be limited to French consulates. That’s a crushing number of people to move through a very limited number of voting outlets in a single day, particularly in cities like Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, with high densities of French citizens.

In an attempt to resolve this issue, I recently wrote to French Foreign Affairs Minister, Alain Juppe, to solicit his assistance in coordinating with the consulates of various other European Union member states on Canadian soil to see if they would be willing to open their Canadian-based consulates in Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto to help ensure that no Canadian-based French citizen is deprived of their right to democratically elect their representative in reasonable and accessible conditions equivalent to those in France.

Last December, the European Commission presented a proposition with the objective of “facilitating cooperation between (E.U.) consular authorities and to reinforce the right to consular protection recognized for European citizens.” When European citizens find themselves in a non-E.U. country like Canada, they effectively have the right to request assistance of another E.U. member-state’s consulate or embassy – in the event their own country doesn’t have its own representation within the country in question. Obviously this isn’t the case for French citizens in Canada who do indeed have an embassy, but it’s not difficult to imagine a natural extension of this protection.

The Commission’s proposition specifies that E.U. citizens are considered unrepresented when the embassy or consulate of their member state is “inaccessible”. In the case where a physical vote is “inaccessible” for French citizens in Canada, in the designated French diplomatic outlets, could this principle not extend to electoral procedures?

Collaboration between European consulates in these cities would be a good test of European unity and solidarity, perfectly echoing what E.U. Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, has stated: “The 27 member states have the duty to bring all their assistance to citizens of the Union who are in difficulty in a country not belonging to the European Union, whatever their citizenship. The right to benefit from the same consular protection as expatriates could constitute a good example of European solidarity everywhere in the world.”

Europe’s place on the world stage won’t solely be established via institutional reform, but also -- and primarily -- through concrete action. This proposed European electoral solidarity which, moreover, would serve to facilitate democratic elections, would serve as a strong symbol.

It’s an extraordinary demand, but the event itself is, by its very nature, out of the ordinary.  In no way should French citizens in Canada be placed at a democratic disadvantage vis-à-vis their compatriots. 

Other countries could similarly find themselves affected by the same challenges and difficulties. “Voting is a right, and also a civic duty,” as it’s written on French voting cards. I sincerely hope that the Minister will help to facilitate a quick and pragmatic solution to permit these citizens to fulfill their duty in the best possible conditions.

 

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