Near and yet so far! Overseas France and the European Parliament Elections
Part IV of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFUE) sets up an association between the EU and those non-European countries and territories which have special relations with Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The aim is “to promote the economic and social development of the countries and territories and to establish close economic relations between them and the Union as a whole” (art. 198 TFUE). Although these territories are not sovereign countries, they enjoy a wide-ranging autonomy from their respective “mainland” to varying degrees.
France currently has 13 overseas territories with approximately 2.6 million inhabitants. Following the 2003 constitutional reform the overseas departments and collectivities were granted jurisdiction and competence hitherto exercised by the State.
Each overseas entity enjoys different status within France and the European Union. The French Southern and Antarctic Lands in the Indian Ocean, and Clipperton Island, located off Mexico, do not have a permanent population. Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana, Reunion and Mayotte are classified as overseas departments fully subject to French laws. They are represented in the French Parliament and they elect a member of the European Parliament. French Polynesia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna are collectivités d’outre-mer (overseas collectivities). They are represented within the National Assembly, the Senate and the Economic and Social Council. The collectivities enjoy considerable administrative autonomy and they can enact their own statutory laws. With the exception of Saint Martin, however, they are not part of the European Union. Under the 1998 Noumea Accord and the 1999 Loi organique that implements it, Nouvelle Calédonie became an overseas collectivity “a statut particulier”, with mainland France only retaining the five compétence régalienne (currency, defence, foreign affairs, justice and public order).
Even though they are located thousands of miles away from the EU, the inhabitants of the overseas departments and collectivities are French citizens, as well as European citizens; consequently, they are granted the right to participate in the EU elections. Pursuant to Law n° 509 of 25 June 2018 on the election of representatives to the European Parliament, France is now a single constituency; this means that there is also a single electoral list for the metropolis and the overseas territories. French citizens are thus able to choose candidates from the same list covering the whole national territory. The changes in the law aim to make the electoral process easier to understand, to promote a national debate and, ultimately, to strengthen citizens’ involvement in European issues. Yet, the solution has been harshly criticized.
The 2018-509 Law on a single constituency passed without the approval of many d’Outre-mer MPs. Philippe Gomés and Philippe Dunoyer – New Caledonian deputies at the National Assembly – argued that the selection of candidates for the EU election lists would be unduly influenced by national political parties. Consequently, candidates from overseas France would have less chances of being nominated. Moreover, the limited number of voters of French Pacific communities will mean that candidates from Caledonian or Polynesian will rarely be successful.
An alternative solution was initially proposed, i.e. to maintain the existing ultra-marine constituency and aggregate the other constituencies. However, this solution would have resulted in a significant discrepancy between the large number of deputies (a significant majority) elected at the level of the metropolis and the very small number of deputies elected for the constituency of the overseas territories (3 deputies). Moreover, a “two-constituencies” system would have led to a differentiation in the treatment of overseas populations. Already in 1989, the Conseil d’État stated that overseas departments and territories are an integral part of the French Republic and must necessarily be included in the single constituency from which the representatives for the European Parliament are elected (EC, 2 Oct. 1989, No. 108243).
In France, the voter turnout was very high. However, the single constituency solution did not contribute to fostering greater participation in French overseas territories, where the EU elections elicited little interest. In New Caledonia, for instance, the participation rate was only 19.22% compared to 27.05 % in 2014. The low voter turnout negatively impacted on the representation of the overseas territories in the European Parliament.
 J. Y Faberon, La France et son outre-mer : un même droit ou un droit différent ?, Pouvoirs, 2005/2 (n° 113), p. 5-19. https://www.cairn.info/revue-pouvoirs-2005-2-page-5.htm
 A. Parrilli, The New Caledonian referendum for independence and indigenous people, In Depth, Vol. 15, Issue 6, University of Nicosia, http://cceia.unic.ac.cy/wp-content/uploads/IN_DEPTH_2018_15_6.pdf
 Loi n° 2018-509 du 25 juin 2018 relative à l’élection des représentants au Parlement européen. Https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichtexte.do?Cidtexte=JORFTEXT000037102048&categorielien=id
 Trois parlementaires calédoniens dénoncent la future circonscription unique aux européennes. France info, https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/nouvellecaledonie/trois-parlementaires-caledoniens-denoncent-future-circonscription-unique-aux-europeennes-589451.html
 Conseil d’Etat, Assemblée, du 20 octobre 1989, 108243, publié au recueil Lebon EC, 2 Oct. 1989, No. 108243. https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichJuriAdmin.do?idTexte=CETATEXT000007742504
 Résultats des élections européennes 2019, https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Elections/Elections-europeennes-2019/Resultats-des-elections-europeennes-2019
|Anna Parrilli is PhD student in Comparative Public Law at the University of Verona. Holding a degree in Political Science and International Relations, her main fields of research are Comparative Constitutional Law, Law and Religion, Muslim law, Religious Minority Rights. In her spare time, she enjoys sports, reading, singing and travelling.|