Debate and convince: the determined Tour de France of Julie Hollard

Debate and convince: the determined Tour de France of Julie Hollard


The Parti Radical de Gauche (Radical Party of the Left, PRG) has organised a tour of France to discuss voting rights for foreigners. Julie Hollard, who initiated the tour, tells us about it.

Montpellier, in the south of France. In the midst of a very concentrated audience, a young girl with big round eyes lifts her hand, just like at school. “What’s a foreigner?” she asks. From the stage, Julie Hollard answers her gently, “We’re all on the same planet. No one is a foreigner.” But behind this gentleness lies a resolute determination, she tells me, to ensure that everyone has the right to vote.

Julie Hollard is a lawyer. The thirty-year old is a member of the executive committee of the PRG, in charge of justice and new rights, and a candidate for the 2014 local elections in the 19th arrondissement in Paris. She was the person who convinced the leaders of the PRG, a party that always spearheads combats for freedom, to organise this tour throughout France to debate voting rights for foreigners. With a smile on her face, Hollard recalls herself when, much younger, class representative at the age of 11, then again the following year, but beaten in the elections for two years after that, only to be re-elected in Year 11, and who, in the middle of a class council, ardently defended one of her classmates to the teachers, saying, “No, it’s impossible. He can’t possibly fail and repeat the year!” Today, with just as much ardour but even more methodically, she is striving for French society not to fail.

And it works, with one debate after another. From east to west, from north to south of the country, “not a single debate is like any other”, she says. At Aulney-sous-Bois, in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris, where the touring debate began on 28 February 2013, 300 people crowded into the hall. “We even had to turn people away. There were meaningful contributions from councillors, communists, greens, players from NGOs, like Samuel Thomas of the Maison des Potes, and Pierre Tartakowsky of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (League of Human Rights, LDH).” Prior to Villeurbanne near Lyon, and Paris, Caen, Laval, Chalons sur Saône, Nîmes and Dunkerque this year, she went to Blois, “where all the political parties of the left attended; Nice, with the centrist party, the Modem; Strasbourg, where the youthful audience were most spontaneous, and Agen; where, with the LDH, our approach was historical and philosophical.”

Countering the argument for citizenship reserved for nationals

Without even going back as far as the French Revolution, which gave voting rights to all, let us go back to February 1992, when, under the impetus of the Maastricht Treaty, the French constitution was modified in the following September. It now proclaims that “the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections shall be granted only to citizens of the Union residing in France.” As an administration site summarises, “nationals of European Union countries were able to vote in the European elections for the first time in 1999 and in local elections in 2001. The foreigners’ right to vote in these elections was incorporated into the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in 2001. For Hollard, “the link between citizenship and voting rights was made. This means that citizenship is not tied to nationality.”

Of course, when she hears the right wing parties arguing that “they should just apply for nationality,” she understands this as a way of refusing the right, and even more, of not making any progress in a debate that already pitted philosophers Rousseau and Sieyès against each other. Rousseau advocated popular sovereignty and therefore universal suffrage, by which all residents of a country are citizens and therefore all have the right to vote. Sieyès advocated national sovereignty, whereby only some members of the population are selected to enjoy their rights, just like in the system of suffrage by census, with money being the criterion for the right to vote. It was popular democracy versus selective democracy.

“The arguments put forward by opponents to voting rights and eligibility of non-EU residents, according to which citizenship cannot be dissociated from nationality, no longer appears to be founded now that the Maastricht Treaty has dissociated French nationality from European citizenship,” as the site reminds us. Hollard returns to the argument for application for nationality put forward by the right. “For us, members of the PRG, asking for nationality is a freedom. If you live in Canada for 15 years, even if you like it, you may not necessarily want to acquire Canadian nationality.” It’s your choice. It’s your freedom.

The other major argument put forward by conservatives is one based on community identity: if foreigners acquire voting rights, they will use it to further community preferences, whether real or imagined. This is completely false. “At elections for industrial, professional and health insurance tribunes, as well as for other elections where foreigners are entitled to vote, there are no partisan or religious votes. There is not even any politically-oriented voting. They vote in the interests of their profession: foreign waiters vote for the interests of waiters, foreign bakers vote for the interests of bakers, and so on.” Here, one could talk of social citizenship. The same is true for the stereotype that all foreigners are left wing. “They vote as much for the left as they do for the right.” Lastly, these arguments are reminiscent of those brandished long ago against soldiers, French people from overseas territories, and then against women. “Women do not have a soul. They should concern themselves with private matters and not with politics. Women would be too heavily influenced by the Church.” The argument based on community preferences sounds just like a backward-looking repetition of these remarks.