As France goes to the polls its love for London grows

Yannick Naud

WALKING around South Kensington, you may have a feeling of being lost in Paris’s Latin Quarter. There are French cafés, bistros, book stores; you may even come across the Lycée Français, the established hub of the French community. The French are in London en masse and have made some parts of the capital their own home.

London is often referred to as France’s sixth city due to its huge expatriate population. Over 300,000 French citizens live in the capital. They make up almost two-thirds of the total registered French voters of the new Third Overseas Constituency, which spans over ten countries in northern Europe and goes to the polls this Sunday for France’s presidential election.

Why do so many French citizens choose to live in this capital city instead of their own? The most obvious reason is to improve their career. Compared to Paris, London is a much bigger and more influential international financial centre with significantly more opportunities on offer. The large banks such as Société Générale, Credit Agricole and BNP Paribas have extensive UK-based operations that take advantage of the prevailing business environment in London, so French professionals see London as a natural environment for employment. The capital has also seen an influx of mostly young French workers who prefer the less hierarchical and more informal employment environment that London offers – or simply come to improve their English and enjoy the capital’s dynamic culture.

Coming to London has its costs. The French have to pay both UK and some French taxes, making living abroad expensive, especially for families with young children. I find the main electoral grievances of London’s French citizens relate to the level of French public infrastructure overseas, especially as it affects access to French education in the capital.

That’s why I think my party’s presidential candidate Francois Bayrou is the real overseas choice: his proposed reforms to the tax system along with his focus on education and exports will benefit the French who live abroad. During Nicolas Sarkozy’s years in office, education, the key concern of French Londoners, has become increasingly unaffordable and difficult to access. And a François Hollande presidency is likely to add pressure by increasing the numbers of French in London: his proposed 75 per cent income tax will drive many abroad and make moving back unattractive.

But whatever their grievances, and whatever French citizens decide this weekend, it seems their love affair with London is set to continue. Nicolas Sarkozy on a trip to London in 2007 told French expats “France is still your country even if you are disappointed by it.” But for more and more, London is also their city and will remain so, whoever inhabits the Élysée Palace.

Yannick Naud is the Mouvement Démocratique (MoDem) candidate for the Third Overseas Constituency of the French Parliament.