All Parisians, All Citizens
Assemblée des citoyens Parisiens extra communautaires (ACPE), Conseil de Paris
City government establishes a council of non-citizens to ensure the voice of all residents is represented at the decision table
Roger Yoba is a 59-year-old Cameroonian national who has lived and worked in Paris for 15 years. He pays taxes, sends his children to public school and follows local politics avidly. He is also one of the 215,000 Parisians who do not have a right to vote at local elections because they are non-EU nationals. “Every time there is an election ,” says Yoba, “I ask myself ‘why can a Bulgarian passport holder vote at local elections, by virtue of being an EU citizen, but I can’t, as a citizen from Cameroon, whose history is intimately linked to France?’ This is a discrimination which I find very hard to accept.”
Since 2001, non-EU Parisians like Yoba have had a voice in the affairs of local government through the Citizens Council of non-EU Parisians (Conseil de la citoyenneté des Parisiens non-communautaires, CCPNC), known today as the Assembly of non-EU Parisians (Assemblée des citoyens Parisiens extra communautaires, ACPE). Launched by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, the Citizens Council aims to correct what Delanoë referred to as “democratic injustice,” by promoting the political participation of non-EU Parisians who live, work and pay their taxes in France –even if participation does not include the right to vote.
The Citizens Council, initially made up of 90 members and chaired by the Mayor himself, has over the years advised Paris City Council on issues as diverse as access to services, fundamental rights, economic development, youth, culture and political participation. This deliberative assembly is an innovative way to raise the profile of a community who is otherwise politically excluded and has contributed to increasing their sense of belonging to France’s capital city.
Political participation as a means of integrating migrants
Shortly after coming to power in 2001, Paris Mayor Betrand Delanoë found an ingenious way of circumventing the law that excludes non-EU citizens from the right to vote at municipal elections. He did so by setting up an advisory council made up of non-EU Parisians that could act as an intermediary channel between these residents and municipal leaders. Aiming for balanced representation, the Council membership ensured gender and age balance, as well as the regional representation of the citizens’ countries of origin.
Under the motto, “All Parisians, All Citizens” (“Tous Parisiens, tous citoyens”), the Council advises the Mayor on issues that were of particular relevance to life in Paris for migrants and non-nationals. In its first 10 years, Council activities focused on a wide range of topics, including campaigning for the right of non-EU citizens to vote at local elections, ensuring adequate housing for migrant workers as well as improving public transportation at night, since the majority of the bus and metro users are migrant workers who tend to work outside traditional working hours, and often live far from the city centre or their place of employment.
Citizenship of residence versus citizenship of nationality
Paris’ Citizens Council was originally meant to be a temporary measure put in place until the right to vote for third country nationals was legislated. Although voting rights have been a political commitment of successive Socialist governments in France since the 1980s, it has yet to be implemented and is regarded by some politicians as contrary to the principles of the French Republic which enshrine individual rights over that of la collectivité (community). While the Citizens Council may challenge the traditional link between citizenship and nationality by promoting the concept of a citizenship of residence, the Assembly is part of a wider trend by the Mayor to improve participatory structures at the municipal level and is one of a series of councils (local residents councils, youth councils, etc) that highlights the Mayor’s intention to increase direct participation of people in decision-making at City Hall:
“Our city’s identity should not be reduced to an origin, a religion, or a territory – but should rather be associated with the notion of tolerance, justice and generosity.” Bertrand Delanoë
(“L’identité de notre ville, n’est pas réductible à une origine, à une religion, à un territoire – elle correspond à une idée de la tolérance, de la justice et de la générosité” Bertrand Delanoë)
The success of the Mayors’s Citizens Council resulted in a majority of Parisian districts (arrondissements) taking the decision to set up their own local councils. To consolidate this widening base of community support, in 2011, the Paris Mayor decided to restructure the Council into an Assembly made up of representatives of the local district councils. With the local branches comes a diversity of perspective and recommendations for action on a wide range of local issues, making the Assembly more effective and more useful to the Mayor as a conduit of the interests and needs of his constituents, including the non-EU nationals that call Paris home.
In the 20th district for instance, the local authority has taken on board many of the Assembly’s suggestions, including the organization of an annual fair on the theme of “a mixed and secular Republic” (Fête de la République laïque et métissée”), and the publication of a welcome guide for newly arrived migrants in Paris, translated in six languages. “Some of our suggestions have even been voted by the municipal council!” says Yoba proudly.
Today, the Assembly remains a consultative body, with the power to influence decision-making rather than to execute any real power. However, it carries the weight of mayoral voice, the will of the people and offers a good platform to advocate for the right to vote for non-EU citizens, sending a strong signal to the 10% of non-EU Parisians that their issues and voices are taken into account.
Making it Work for You:
- Use direct participatory structures to include residents who may otherwise be excluded. This will increase their sense of community and belonging and contribute to more representative decision-making and better outcomes.
- Try to get municipal leaders behind your initiative – the fact that the Mayor is chairing the Assembly lends it great weight and legitimacy.
- When you involve people directly affected by a particular situation to advocate for change, you also empower them to show leadership and commitment to their local political environment.
- Think of going local – the smaller the structure, the more participative it can be and better able to respond to residents needs.