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Saturday, April 22, 2017

The French Candidates' Promises to the French Abroad

Update:  The Union des Français de l'Etranger (UFE) sent a questionnaire to all the candidates.  Fillon, Cheminade, Melenchon and Macron all submitted replies to the questions.  The responses received are hereBonne lecture!

I am very interested in the French elections even though I am not a French citizen and I cannot vote. However, the candidates' programs will directly affect me.  I will be taxed more (or less) depending on who wins.  I have the same concerns about the economy, pensions, and security as any French national.  And I want France's future to be bright because I want my children to be able to return if they wish.

One of the things I most envy the French abroad is that they not only have the vote but they have representation in the nation's parliament (senators and representatives).  Thus, the French candidates pay attention (at least during the election season) to their citizens abroad.  I wouldn't claim that it's perfect. The French government decided not to allow on-line voting this election cycle so the French in Japan must vote by mail or travel to the nearest consulate in Kyoto or Tokyo to cast their vote in person.  Still, it is better than what many countries offer their communities abroad.

Since I have two French voters in my household, I am aware of just how close that attention is.  The younger Frenchling and my spouse have received emails from many of the candidates outlining what they have in mind for les Français de l'Etranger should they be elected.  A large enveloppe arrived the other day with pretty flyers and other election information.

So today I thought I would give you some idea of the promises the candidates are making to their compatriots in distant lands.  Though "Les promesses n'engagent que ceux qui y croient" I think we can reasonably assume that these politicians are trying to respond to needs that have been expressed by the French abroad.  As such it is an interesting, if indirect, view of the French diaspora's lives abroad -  what the candidates think will entice them to go to the polls and vote for them.  This is recognition that the world of the French at home and the world of the French expatriates are different. The candidates had to give this some thought in order to come up with an offer that would interest the French living in Berlin, Toronto, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Casablanca alike while still linking the French abroad to France and emphasizing their ties to the nation. But the offer can't be too good lest they ruffle the feathers of voters back in France who are still the majority.

Whenever possible I will try give you a link or a video so you can read or listen to what they have to say yourself.  In one case (Melenchon) I wasn't able to find anything specific - a message expressly for the Français établis hors de France nor did the French voters in my house get an email from his campaign.  If he has sent something out and I have simply missed it, please send me the link or the contents of the mail and I will add it.  The website with Melenchon's program is here. And see above for his answers to the UFE questionnaire.

Benoît Hamon:  In this not terribly inspiring video he talks first about education and helping the French abroad to educate their children in French schools.  And then he goes on to talk about consular services and how he sees the French abroad as performing a service as ambassadors and how their influence should be part of an overall strategy for France in the world.

Emmanuel Macron:  In his email Une France tournée vers l'Europe et le monde Macron has a bright pink link inviting you to "consulte les mesures pour les français à l'étranger."  Note that he invokes the idea of the French abroad as representatives of France at the top of the webpage.  He has three goals for the French expatriés.  The first is education. Macron wants to make a French education abroad accessible to everyone. The second is about equitable taxation and better social protections abroad.  The third is to bring the French abroad closer to their elected representatives and to make sure that their voices are heard back in France.

Marine Le Pen:  In her email Mon programme présidentiel pour les Français de l'Etranger Le Pen  also put education at the top of the list.  She wants to assure free education and distance learning for all French students. Next is security abroad especially in dangerous areas.  Third is taxation:  Le Pen affirms a tax system based on territory, not nationality and she wants to lift the requirement to pay the  CSG/CRDS for the French living outside the EU - something that is apparently already the case but perhaps she is referring to the reimbursement of the CSG/CRDS already paid which is still an issue. She also promises better social protection with something called the Protection Universelle Maladie.  And finally she also proposes that the French abroad have more say in national issues.  You can read the long version here

François Fillon:  And yet another who talks about how the French abroad are representatives participating in the "rayonnement de la France" in the world.  In this video Fillon begins with taxes and confirms that the territorial taxation system will continue under his leadership.  He then discusses security and, yes, education.  He proposes more scholarships and other financing for a French education outside of France.  As for social protection he would allow expatriates to have access to all social protections in France the moment they return home.  And he promises that the voice of the French abroad will be heard at home and he fully supports the on-line vote to make it easier for the French abroad to participate in French elections.

Clearly, there are some recurring themes here with all candidates promising better access to French education abroad.  Another is the idea that the French abroad are unofficial French ambassadors in their host country - a sentiment that Americans abroad also hear in conversations with the homeland (when we or they want something.) It is one of those feel-good expressions that is so ambiguous that we can read whatever we want to into it.  Yes, I have come to have a certain cynicism when I hear it used.  All the candidates promise to ensure that expat voices will be heard and their influence recognized back in the home country.

Taxation is also mentioned by three candidates who seem to have a very different idea of "fair" than Melenchon.  Territorial taxation all the way.  Oh, and they all agree that it isn't reasonable to expect the French abroad to pay the CSG/CRDS ( special French  income taxes that the US IRS does not recognize as "real" taxes that can be used to offset US taxes.)

And finally both Fillon, Macron and Le Pen are in favor of either extending social protections to the French abroad or making them immediately eligible for coverage the moment they hit French soil.

Of all these promises the one that I would hold them to (if I were a French citizen abroad) is the one about education.  It's telling that all the candidates here have ideas about how to help the French expatriate pay for a French education in the host country.  This is one that would not only be a huge help to French families (see some of the school fees in Hong Kong, Tokyo, San Francisco, London)  and a way of reducing the inequalities between the French abroad on company packages and those who aren't, but it is a very good investment for France.  

A French child abroad who is inserted into the French school system as early as possible and who follows it all the way through high school is more likely to return to France for university.  This would mean young French returning to France with a good education, good health, knowledge about the world, and an extra language or two.  What France lost with the departure of their parents, comes back with interest.  That is one hell of a deal.  And I think France would be all the better for it.


Ellen said...

Mélenchon might not want to speak directly to those abroad because he's promised those in France to tax the ones abroad (taxation universel).

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Yes. I suspected the same, Ellen. Note that the other candidates are taking advantage of that and expressing their support of territorial taxation while also promising more in the way of benefits. Interesting....

Christophe said...

The only people I know that can send their kids to the international school are temporary expats (a few years) from large French companies, where the company pays for the tuition as part of the expat package.
Other expats who are directly hired by US companies are out of luck.
I would love to send my kids to the international school, but at not at a price tag of $14,000 per kid per year. I'd rather save for higher education.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Christophe, I would have loved to send my kids to an international school in France but like you we didn't have the money. Then we were very short-term expats in Tokyo and the company paid for it. Coming back to France, Jessica found an IB program in Sevres and we jumped on it. Would you like to see more French subsidies for international schools for French expats?

Anonymous said...

Now I'm confused, because I distinctly remember a post in which you said you had taken French citizenship - ? After 20 years in France, before you went back to Tokyo, -- ? Am I misremembering?
Laughing trying to imagine the USA offering to pay for American education overseas... When we sent our children to an American school in London, it was $75,000/year for the three of them. I CAN imagine US banks offering education loans at 8% interest, to be paid back after graduation...:)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Anonymous, Nope. I was all set to apply and then I was diagnosed with cancer. Once I got through the treatment I went back to the prefecture and the requirements changed. Now I have to get a French language test. Given that I am between two countries right now that hasn't been easy to set up. So I will wait until things settle.

Some of my fellow American students at the university of Kent were there on student loans. One was former US military. :-) I agree, the US would never pay for an international school but may they could be convinced to give tax credits or vouchers. Is this not just a logical extension of the GOP's desire for "school choice"? Why shouldn't all Americans have the choice to send their kids to ANY school in the world. :-)