What is the CSFE?
HIGH COUNCIL FOR FRENCH EXPATRIATES
French people living
abroad — 1 900 000 expatriates — form an important population sub-group, as
large as the population of the Bouches-du-Rhône or of the four Overseas
Departments taken together.
The CSFE is the representative assembly of these French people settled abroad. Its aim is to enable them to take part in the life of the nation and make themselves heard, despite the distance separating them from France. Delegates to the CSFE represent these French expatriates in official bodies and defend their interests.
The political representation of French persons living abroad, whether in the former colonies or foreign countries, is a problem as old as the representation of metropolitan French citizens. The issue of citizenship arose as far back as the convening of the Estates General in 1789 when the validity of the 17 elected, appointed or self-proclaimed deputies from abroad was examined.
The Constitution of 27 October 1946 (IVth Republic) stipulated that the new Parliament would comprise a National Assembly and a "Council of the Republic" (as the Senate was named until 1958) within which "the French of the exterior" would be represented. The National Assembly had the task of deciding what shape this representation would take. It decreed, in a resolution dated 13 December 1946, that three "Councillor of the Republic" seats (out of 320) would go to personalities representing our compatriots living in Europe, America and Asia-Oceania respectively. Special provisions accorded a large place to elected officials from the colonies and French protectorates in Africa.
French expatriates had, in addition, been represented in Paris, for twenty or more years, by four important bodies grouping the active elements of France’s presence abroad. They were: the Union of French Chambers of Commerce Abroad, the French Overseas Teachers Association, the Non-Resident French War Veterans Federation, and the Overseas French Union (Union des Français de l’étranger, UFE), founded in 1927. The four bodies claimed the right, at least, to present their National Assembly candidates at the time Councillors of the Republic were designated, and asked in particular that French citizens genuinely living abroad be able to make their voices heard. They suggested, therefore, that a "high council", made up mostly of overseas French elected officials, be created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This claim was favourably received by the then Prime Minister, Robert Schuman, and his Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault. On 7 July 1948, they signed a Decree setting up the High Council for French Expatriates.
The first High Council was composed of 55 members: 8 ex officio members (the three Senator-Councillors of the Republic, the president and director of the UFE, the presidents of the Chambers of Commerce, of the Teachers Association and of the Veterans Federation), 42 elected officials, and 5 members nominated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "chosen from among French personalities with recognised competence in matters concerning the general interests of France abroad".
In Spring 1950, the first CSFE elections were held in seventy countries of Europe, America, Asia and Oceania, according to a protocol defined in a Ministerial Decree dated 10 December 1949 and signed by Robert Schuman. Two ideas lay at the heart of the Decree: first, to gain a more accurate notion of our compatriots’ identity by requiring them to register in their Consulates; second, to encourage them to rally together by inducing them to join an association or French "body" and so obtain voting rights. These two conditions and the electoral system introduced remained in force until 1982.
The elections took place in two stages. Within the associations, each recognised body appointed delegates as follows: one for under 50 members; two for 50-100 members; one more for every hundred and fraction of a hundred members. The electoral college so constituted then elected one or more representatives to the CSFE using the same procedure as the Senatorial colleges in France: direct majority in the first round, plurality in the second.
Article 24 of the Constitution of 25 September 1958 states, "French nationals settled outside France shall be represented in the Senate." Two Executive Orders were issued, on 15 November 1958 and 4 February 1959 respectively, for organising this representation and providing the CSFE with new statutes. The CSFE, while retaining its advisory role, became the sole electoral college for electing Senators from abroad. Their number was increased from three to six, two representing Europe and America, one representing Asia-Oceania and three representing Africa, which made its entry into the CSFE. It was thus divided into three sections for the Senatorial elections of 23 April 1959. The CSFE had 84 elected members at the time, but it had become clear that Europe and America were under-represented by comparison with Africa. For the 1962 elections, the number of Senators was therefore brought up to nine.
In 1982, after the creation of the Democratic Association of French Citizens Abroad (Association Démocratique des Français à l’Etranger – ADFE) in 1980, the CSFE was reconstituted, assuming the organisation and operating system that it has today. The Act of 7 June 1982 instituted the election by universal suffrage of Delegates to the CSFE, which (with the exception of twenty-one members chosen for their competence but not having Senatorial voting rights) was no longer composed of appointed personalities, and the election of twelve Senators by the elected members only of the CSFE.
A. Composition of the CSFE
The CSFE, presided over ex officio by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, is composed of:
1. One hundred and fifty members (Delegates or Councillors) elected by direct universal suffrage by the French communities abroad. All registered French expatriates, except those who expressly refuse, automatically figure on the CSFE voting centre lists.
Delegates are elected for a six-year term. Half of the Electoral College is renewed every three years. Series A (77 seats) comprises the circumscriptions of America (30 Delegates) and Africa (47 Delegates); series B (73 seats) the circumscriptions of Europe (52 Delegates), Asia-Oceania and the Levant (21 Delegates). The next elections will be held in 2003 for series A, and in 2006 for series B.
There are 48 electoral districts, with one or more Delegates per district. A country may have several electoral districts, just as an electoral district may cover several countries. The Act lays down the number of seats per electoral district and names its chief town.
2. Twelve Senators representing French expatriates, elected one-third at a time for nine-year terms by the 150 elected members of the CSFE.
3. Twenty personalities appointed by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs for six-year terms "by reason of their competence in matters concerning the general interests of France abroad". They are renewed one-half at a time every three years. They include a representative of the French persons settled in the Principality of Andorra, appointed by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs for a six-year term.
of the CSFE
President: The CSFE is entrusted by law with the task of advising the Cabinet. The Minister of Foreign Affairs defines the objectives and priorities of the assembly which he chairs.
Vice-Presidents: The President is flanked by three Vice-Presidents elected by the plenary assembly. The first among them coordinates the college which they form. The mission assigned to the college of Vice-Presidents is one of reflection, proposition, organisation and communication.
The Senators transmit to the Senate, the National Assembly and the Economic and Social Council the propositions, motions, resolutions and wishes expressed. The twelve Senators, ex officio members of the CSFE, can introduce Bills or legislative amendments reflecting the hopes and needs of French people living around the world.
The primary role of the elected councillors is to represent French expatriates. The councillors’ knowledge of local conditions provides the whole Council with the information needed for it to carry out its task.
The appointed councillors are designated by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs on the basis of their particular qualifications.
The members of the Council may form political groups. At present, there are four of these: ADFE (63 members), Union des démocrates, indépendants et libéraux – UDIL (51), Rassemblement pour la République – RPR  (34) and Rassemblement des Français de l’étranger – RFE  (29). A minimum of 18 members is required to form a group.
of the CSFE
The college of Vice-Presidents (or conference of Vice-Presidents) enact the work of the Council and reports back to the President.
The plenary assembly, attended by the ex officio members, the appointed members and the elected members, meets once a year in Paris at the beginning of September.
The permanent bureau, made up of the President, the three Vice-Presidents, and fifteen members elected by the plenary assembly, ensures working continuity between sessions. It meets four times a year, usually in February, May, September and December.
Members are divided among specialised committees which prepare reports for submission to the plenary assembly. It is compulsory for each member to belong to a standing committee, and one only. There are at present four standing committees:
— the social affairs committee (41 members)
— the economic, fiscal and customs affairs committee (44 members)
— the education, culture and information committee (50 members)
— the committee for French expatriates’ representation and rights (48 members).
The CSFE also has lighter structures with limited life spans which are easily mobilised according to the needs of the moment. This is the case with the temporary committees, currently three in number:
— the war veterans temporary committee (created in 1991, 32 members)
— the employment and vocational training temporary committee (September 2000, 25 members)
— the CSFE reform temporary committee (September 2000, 25 members)
Each committee has a chairman and a rapporteur.
Ad hoc working groups can be formed as the need arises. (There are currently a "new technology" group and an "insurance for despoiled expatriates" group).
B. Elected CSFE members can sponsor a candidate for the French presidential elections.
C. The CSFE is
"called upon to give the Cabinet opinions on matters and projects of
concern to French expatriates, and on developing France’s presence
abroad". They are not prior opinions, however. The CSFE
could rather be said to fulfil the role of a specialised Economic and Social
Council. The Cabinet may consult it, or it may intervene at its own
initiative. CSFE members, as elected representatives of the various
French communities abroad, are concerned to defend the interests of French
expatriates. They study matters relating to the education of French
people abroad, their rights, their social situation, their economic and
taxation problems. They express wishes, issue opinions and
submit motions for guiding government action. At plenary assembly
and permanent bureau meetings, they solicit the government’s attention through written
and oral questions.
The CSFE may use background studies to inform the French authorities on specific problems (education, law, social affairs, foreign trade, taxation, etc.) affecting the interests of French expatriates).
at national level
CSFE members elect two persons representing the French abroad to the Economic and Social Council. They choose from among themselves five administrators for the Caisse des Français de l’étranger (Social Security Fund for French Expatriates) and fifteen administrators to represent persons insured with the Fund.
They have seats also in numerous other public bodies:
— 1 representative on the board of administration of the Agence pour l’enseignement français à l’étranger – AEFE (Agency for French Teaching Abroad)
— 2 representatives on the Commission nationale des bourses (National Study Grants Commission)
— 2 representatives on the Standing Committee for Employment and Vocational Training for French Expatriates
— 1 representative on the Conseil national de l’aide juridique (National Legal Aid Council)
— 1 representative on the Conseil départemental de l’accès aux droits de Paris (Paris Departmental Rights Entitlement Council)
— 3 representatives on the Conseil pour la protection sociale des Français de l’étranger (Council for the Social Protection of French Expatriates) housed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
— the three CSFE Vice-Presidents are ex officio members of the Association Nationale des Écoles Françaises à l’étranger (National Association of French Schools Abroad).
on local committees
The Delegates, in permanent contact with the accredited French authorities in their country of residence, are ex officio members of the consular bodies competent in the fields of employment and vocational training, welfare action and protection, and study grants. They have two representatives on each administrative committee sitting in the voting centres set up for the Presidential election, European Parliament elections and referendums.
They can, moreover, be consulted by the heads of diplomatic and consular posts on all general matters of concern to the French nationals in their electoral district.