One way to get involved in your local community is to stand for election to the local council. Gillian Harvey finds out what’s involved and meets expats who’ve done just that
Whether you live in a tiny hamlet or a sprawling metropolis, local politics in France will have an impact on your life. From the calculation of local taxes or decisions made as to whether a road is resurfaced, the local council (or conseil municipal) in each commune is charged with many responsibilities, including the allocation of funds to local projects and works, and arranging local fêtes and celebrations. But how do the local councils in France work? And how can you get involved?
Elections for the local council, or élections municipales, are held once every six years, with the next due in 2020. Eligible groups, both political and apolitical, who wish to stand for election must put forward a list of candidates, which must correspond to the number of seats available. The number of seats can be as low as seven for communes with less than 100 inhabitants and rises on a sliding scale. Communes with a population of more than 300,000 will have 69 councillors.
The rules are slightly different for the largest cities such as Paris, Lyon and Marseille, which are sub-divided into smaller electoral zones known as arrondissements. In Paris there are 20 arrondissements, each with its own mayor. Selected members from each arrondissement come together to form the Conseil de Paris, which then elects the Maire de Paris.
Every conseil municipal will consist of a mayor ( maire) and sometimes several deputy mayors ( adjoint au maire) who are elected by members ( les conseillers municipaux). The members are legally required to meet every three months, but often come together more frequently.
In communes under 1,000 inhabitants, there may be two rounds of voting, depending on the percentage of votes received by each candidate. The lists are flexible: voters can replace names with councillors from different lists, or cross names off if they wish. However, in some smaller communes, there may only be one list put forward for election, which means that choice may be limited, or non-existent.
In communes with more than 1,000 inhabitants, proportional representation is used, with two rounds of voting. Lists are fixed, and voters must vote for a particular list, rather than a candidate. The winning list obtains half the available seats, and the remaining seats are shared proportionally among all eligible lists (those with at least 5% of the vote).
The local council makes decisions on all affairs relating to the commune (unless dictated otherwise by a separate law or official document). Local councils will therefore make decisions on issues as disparate as the maintenance of property and land owned by the commune (such as the local school, rental properties, roads and parks), the employment of commune staff (such as gardeners and cleaners) and the arrangement of the annual OAP’s Christmas lunch.
The council also makes decisions pertaining to the commune budget, such as whether local taxes need to be raised, and the amount of money allocated to local projects and schemes.
Residents from the EU are entitled to vote in the local elections, provided they own property in the commune and/or pay taxes. In order to register, you need to go to your local mairie with some identification (such as your passport) and proof that you pay taxes in France before 31 December, in the year before the election. You can also