MP Axelle Lemaire is the face of French President François Hollande’s Socialist party in London. And Helsinki. And Estonia. And a few other places, including one country she’s never visited.
“I try to represent the spirit of northern Europe,” the Canadian-born Ms. Lemaire explained, more than once, when asked to describe her role as the first member of the French National Assembly for north Europe.
The 38-year-old mother of two from what is now the city of Gatineau, Que., landed a seat at the heart of power in parliamentary elections in June, after voters replaced president Nicolas Sarkozy with the anti-austerity Mr. Hollande. Her post was created when the French constitution was changed in 2009 to create 11 Assembly members to represent the 1.6 million French living abroad.
As a long-time socialist activist, she was considered a long shot. “I thought most of French citizens [abroad] were rather more on [the] bourgeois, banking, professional sector side and therefore it was not a guaranteed Socialist seat,” said one of her former employers, Britain’s former minister for Europe Denis MacShane.
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Ms. Lemaire sees no contradiction in being a Socialist in a country dominated by conservative, Euro-skeptics or in working as an MP representing 10 countries but with a niche brief. She campaigned on improving French schools overseas, protecting the right to dual nationality (she retains her Canadian citizenship) and the recognition of French professional qualifications overseas.
“I’m meeting … with parents who send their children to French school who are concerned with the high fees,” Ms. Lemaire said when pressed for a practical example of how her Socialist ideals are utilized on the job. She also represents constituent views to Paris on matters such as immigration, justice and the economy, she said.