Fear the Snowball Effect

Article published on Nov. 24, 2003
community published
Article published on Nov. 24, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

‘I live here and I’m going to vote here!’ This is Paul Oriol's slogan. An activist in favour of European citizenship for all residents, he explains why Italy could end up influencing Europe as a whole.

‘Now that even Fini’s post-Fascists are in favour, things are going to change across Europe!’ Paul Oriol is satisfied. Since Gianfranco Fini, leader of the Italian National Alliance party, surprised Italy with the draft legislation that he tabled on October 16th, Mr Oriol believes his cause has been making progress. Fini’s aim? To grant the right to vote to all foreigners resident in Italy for at least six months. A few weeks later even the European Social Forum embraced Oriol’s demands for European citizenship for all residents. And yet, as draft legislation is being tabled not only in Italy but also in Belgium, the idea continues to divide the societies of the Old Continent. What counts for Paul Oriol is ‘that the issue is discussed on a public European platform’. That is why the pressure group that he leads, ‘in favour of European citizenship for all residents’, has just launched a campaign to gather one million signatures in favour of granting citizenship to all foreigners resident in the European Union.

Café babel: Mr Oriol, is Fini’s initiative going in the right direction?

Definitely. What really surprises me is that is has come from Fini, who is linked to the old, post-fascist MSI [Italian Social Movement] and co-author of the Fini-Bossi law [to restrict immigration]. So I don’t really understand the reasons behind it - except perhaps a desire to increase his profile in relation to Bossi [leader of The Northern League, a separatist party] whose ‘aura’ is bigger than his. If you were a bit naïve you could also argue that he is against immigrants when they arrive but once they are here, he is a realist and tells himself that they need to be integrated because it is in no one’s interests to have pockets of immigrants springing up across the European Union. In my opinion this is intelligent. It is obvious that we are in the same situation in France. Here, these ideas can only go through if a right-wing party is in favour. Up to now, the Right has blocked it and that might influence other countries since currently there are only six countries who provide the right to vote in local elections for migrants.

Which countries are these?

Ireland, The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and, from this year, Luxembourg. And that’s not including Lithuania and Slovenia from the enlargement group. And it has a good chance of going through in Italy as well.

Fini has even said that he is prepared to get the law through with the help of votes from the Left. No, really. And there is a strong possibility that it will go through in Belgium to; there are six legislative proposals that have been tabled in the Belgian Parliament on this issue. So that would make eight countries. But it is true that it only affects northern Europe and Italy. That said, when you look at the surveys, Italian’s are among those most in favour of giving migrants the right to vote in European elections.

What were the responses?

The survey, carried out in 2000 by the ‘Lettre de la Citoyenneté’ polled 14,500 people in the 15 member states of the EU. Those most in favour were the Spanish with 62%, followed by the Portuguese with 59% and the Italians with 55%. As for the others, in Denmark only 15% were in favour, in Ireland 39%, in The Netherlands 44% and in Germany 42%.

Therefore, you could say that the countries in the South, who have not given foreigners the right to vote, want to, and those in the North, who already have, want to take a step backwards, like Denmark for example.

Yes, but be careful because the survey only concerned European elections and it was done at a time when in Denmark as soon as anyone mentioned Europe, it raised people’s hackles. It might not be that they are against the right to vote for foreigners but that they are against Europe. In the United Kingdom it is the same thing; they are very reticent about Europe.

With regard to the rest of the world, does a European model for the integration of immigrants exist?

I don’t think there is a European model even if we are getting closer and closer to a harmonisation of legislation, especially in a repressive sense. In The Netherlands, for example, it’s pillarisation [a concept whereby social systems including education and heath care are divided on religious lines between Roman Catholics and Protestants on one side and liberals/those without religion on the other]. In France it’s secularism. But if you look at the regulations regarding nationality it is phenomenal; there are unbelievable differences.

For example, when you compare how many foreigners there are in the different countries, it doesn’t make sense. In France there are 3,600,000 foreigners. But that is because of French regulations. If you were in Latin America, the figure would be only 600,000. In Germany or Switzerland there would be 6 million. With the same population therefore you can go from 600,000 to 6 million foreigners. We are not comparing like with like. For instance, suppose two Turkish brothers decide to move to Europe. One of them moves to Germany and the other to Belgium. After seven years the Turk in Belgium becomes Belgian. The Turk in Germany cannot become German. Then the brother in Belgium, who is unemployed, goes to stay with his brother who has set up a business in Germany. And the Belgian brother can vote because he is a ‘European citizen’. He doesn’t speak a word of German and he knows nothing about the German political situation. Meanwhile his brother, who has lived there for years, cannot vote because he isn’t a European citizen.

Turks, Belgians, Italians… can’t politics get beyond national cultures?

That is exactly what we are demanding. If we apply citizenship by virtue of residence we could see to it that so-called immigrants, which in itself is an abstract idea created from their nationality and their culture, join the electoral role in order to participate in the political life of the country.

Do you not think that this proposal will end up weakening the idea of European citizenship?

That depends on what you mean by European. If by European you mean eye and skin colour, and religious practice, then yes. But if, as Romano Prodi says, Europe is not a territory but a political idea founded on participation, democracy, freedom and equality… Why do we not recognise those who are already here? In whose interests is it that there are 15 million EU residents excluded from citizenship?