Prime can­di­date

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

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

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

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