Since Brexit, British citizens have only been allowed to spend 90 out of every 180 days in EU countries. | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter


With France less than a week away from being expected to vote in favour of easing or scrapping the 90-day rule for British home owners in France, the Bulletin has interviewed the French senator, Martine Berthet of Savoie, who has sparked calls for the cap to be eased or lifted in Spain.

Q.— Why have you tabled this proposal?
A. — The tabling of this amendment as part of the review of the Immigration Bill is the result of several months’ work on the difficulties encountered by British second-home owners in gaining access to France. In response to testimonies sent in by a number of my fellow British citizens and feedback from the field in my own department of Savoie, I first asked the Minister for the Interior to work together on this issue.
The aim was to come up with a win-win solution: making it easier for British owners of second homes to come here and increasing visitor numbers in the towns concerned by combating the phenomenon of “cold beds”.
In this context and in the absence of a response from the Government, the PJL Immigration (Project to control immigration, improve integration bill) was a good opportunity to obtain information on this concern.

Q.— How can France take a unilateral decision when it is a European law and Spain, which wants to lift the rule, says it is up to the EU to decide?
A. — As mentioned above, the debate we had during the Senate’s examination of the PJL Immigration was intended both to raise publicly this issue, which was being raised in several regions of France, and to obtain some initial answers.
The parliamentary shuttle (i.e. the back and forth between the National Assembly and the Senate to examine the same text) will enable all the legal questions to be answered.

Q.— How can the British help you and the other French politicians who support you to make this happen and get it through the French National Assembly?
A. — All members of parliament, and especially senators, are attentive to the issues facing their regions. We listen. A first-hand account of the difficulties that the British are encountering on the ground is a valuable basis for our work.

Q.— Do you think the French government will try to block this project? If so, why?
A. — The government had given an unfavourable opinion of my amendment when it was examined by the Senate. In view of the arguments put forward, however, it seems that this opinion was based on a misunderstanding of my proposal.
I cannot act as the government’s spokesperson, but my approach is a collective one. If my amendment is not ultimately retained in the PJL Immigration, I hope to be able to work with the Home Office to come up with a solution that meets the concerns of people on the ground.

Q.— While those with property are delighted that this important issue is now receiving attention from politicians, what can be done to ensure that all Britons (including those without property) can enjoy greater mobility in France and Spain post-Brexit without having to worry about visas?
A. — The overall issue of the conditions under which British nationals can enter France or the European Union in general goes far beyond the subject of my amendment.
My approach was first and foremost to start from situations we encounter on the ground and resolve them step by step. For the sake of efficiency, my proposal only concerns British homeowners because many of them bought a home in France well before Brexit and the tightening of the rules.
I think it’s important to separate the two issues because they don’t raise the same challenges and don’t have the same timeframe.

Q.— What can be done in France and Spain to make reciprocal the generous and simple “6 months per visit and per country” visa exemption that the UK currently grants to all French and Spanish visitors?
A. — I’m not familiar with the situation in Spain. As a French parliamentarian, I have no wish to interfere in what is happening in Spain. I’m only concerned about the situation in France.

Related news

Q.— When Brexit happened, do you think that British citizens should have benefited from the same type of bilateral agreements that certain nationalities (United States, Canada, New Zealand and others) obtain in France and Spain ... in addition to the Schengen visa exemption that they all obtain today? Would this have prevented the appalling situation of the last three years?
A. — The negotiations were long and complicated. They did not go in this direction.

Q.— How can border controls between the UK and Schengen countries be speeded up? Do you think that ETIAS and its British equivalent will worsen the situation?
A. — I haven’t looked into this.

Q.— We think your ideas are excellent, but the French government has indicated that the current 6-month VLS-T visa arrangements are adequate for people affected by the Brexit. How do you respond to that?
A. — My amendment is designed precisely to respond to the difficulties encountered over the last three years. In the course of my work, I have found that people wishing to stay in France for a long period of time and obtain a residence permit or visa are faced with a lengthy procedure made more complex by numerous technical problems (malfunctioning of the TLS contact website, few appointments available, etc.). It is important to note, however, that these difficulties unfortunately have their roots in the sovereign decision of the British people to leave the European Union.

Q.— What about people who have been renting their homes in France, perhaps with long-term tenancies since before Brexit? Could these measures help them too?
A. — My proposal is first and foremost focused on British landlords wishing to visit France more and for longer. It offers them an entry procedure that is more suited to their style of stay than the current rule of 90 days in 180 days or the long-stay visa procedure.
Once this principle has been established, an implementing decree will specify the practical details of this provision, should it be retained in the final text of the PJL Immigration.

Q.— Will the EU have to authorise France to do this?
A. — It’s too early to say. First of all, it is important that the parliamentary shuttle of the PJL Immigration is completed in France.

Q.— . French nationals can visit the UK for up to six months per visit without needing a visa, even if they do not own property in the UK. What about the limit of 90 days in 180 days, which is shared between 27 countries? Would you like to change this to allow the British to visit France under the same conditions as the French visit the UK?
A. — See question 5

Q.— Would you like the UK to rejoin the European Union?
A. — The answer to this question lies first and foremost with the British people.
All I can say is that the difficulties we are experiencing are first and foremost rooted in the sovereign decision of the British people in 2016 to leave the European Union.

Q.— How confident are you that the motion will be adopted, and when will the vote take place?
A. — The adoption of this amendment demonstrates, I believe, the importance that the Senate attaches to the Franco-British relationship.
The examination of the Immigration LDP began at the end of November in the National Assembly and should be completed just before Christmas.
I hope that, on this occasion, the members of parliament will be sensitive to this issue and decide to keep this provision in the text.
However, even though I have received expressions of sympathy from several fellow MPs, I have no idea whether this measure will ultimately be retained in the text.
The article has just been deleted by the National Assembly’s Law Committee, following a close vote.
The MPs still have the opportunity to reinstate the article in the public session.
If this were not the case, we would use these debates as a working basis for the construction of a balanced solution that would respond to the difficulties identified.