In an historic move, the French has created a new Northern European constituency in its national parliament. This means that Frenchmen and women living in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States will soon have their own MP in the French parliament. It is a remarkable development because it shows that the French are prepared to adjust to changing times, where an increasing number of persons are choosing to live abroad. Although France has a long tradition of allowing MPs from its overseas territories, this is the first time they are accommodating an elected MP for their expat, or Diaspora, population.
I accept that it is perhaps foolhardy to contrast the French situation with Montserrat.
Yet, I could not resist contemplating a few what ifs. It is a fact that more Montserratians now live abroad than on island. There is also no need, at this time, to rehash the long running discussion about whether Montserratians in the Diaspora should be allowed to vote in General Elections in Montserrat. Previous exchanges about that issue here on MNI Alive have convinced me that there are strong opinions on both sides of that argument.
Nonetheless I am inclined to wonder if any valuable lessons could be gleaned from this new approach by the French.
Professor Philippe Marliere, who teaches French and European politics at University College London, thinks the new approach will be advantageous. He told the BBC that there are more and more French people living abroad who can encounter problems related to education, pension, tax, social welfare and health systems in their host country. Professor Marliere holds the view that an expat MP can help them to resolve those issues.
The Professor's enthusiasm is shared by 26-year-old Frenchwoman Clelia-Elsa Froguel, who lives in London. "We are French Londoners, not expatriates, and the election of an MP for us is extremely important, she said. Miss Froguel did not vote in any French parliamentary elections up until now. She made a personal choice not vote because she did not feel she was being represented. She could have voted if she wanted to despite the fact that she lives in London.
There is an important difference to consider if we were to compare Miss Froguel's decision with that of a Montserratian in the Diaspora. Her choice whether or not to vote in the French parliamentary elections was optional whereas a Montserratian's decision to vote in General Elections in Montserrat is not optional, but conditional.
Everyone does not share the enthusiasm held by Professor Marliere and Ms Froguel with regards to the new expat French MP. One such person is a London-based 39-year-old business owner Frenchman Muriel Demarcus, who does not feel that the introduction of an expat French MP is likely to change anything. He said "After four or five years you turn a corner and you become more and more British. I don't think we are French anymore." I wonder how many Montserratians in the Diaspora will share Mr. Demarcus's views on that point, however.
Other skeptics do not think the new MP will have any major impact since the French Government is not likely to place high priority on its foreign nationals who do not live, work, and (most importantly) pay taxes in France. Only time will tell if that will prove to be true.
Montserratians who live in the UK are eligible to vote in various local and national elections, although that right is not available to many Montserratians who live in the United States of America, Canada, and many parts of the Caribbean.
Unless they have become naturalized citizens where they now abode, those Montserratians are not eligible to vote in any parliamentary elections in their host countries. This places them in a peculiar situation of essentially being disenfranchised almost by stealth. No one could have predicted that any Government of Montserrat would have implemented a local policy that disqualifies Montserratians in the Diaspora from voting. It is equally correct that no one could have anticipated the apparently very strong support which such as policy would have attracted from Montserratians at home. In all probability, if those events were foreseeable some Montserratians might have reconsidered their option at the height of the scramble to relocate/evacuate.
Would an MP for the Diaspora strike a balance and restore some local political clout to Montserratians in the Diaspora without requiring them to declare any intention of returning to Montserrat on a permanent basis?
It is curious that the French have limited the constituency of its expat MP to Northern Europe and did not announce any plans for making similar provisions for French populations in other parts of the world. One can only suppose that it is perhaps due to geographic or demographic factors. Despite this, it is still an interesting idea in how France is positioning itself to respond to the concerns and needs of its expatriate population.
I am tempted to wonder if a similar approach can be practical for Montserrat, and whether it could be of mutual benefit the Government of Montserrat and Montserratians in the Diaspora.
Joseph A. Daley supports the economic empowerment of all native Montserratians.