Should EU citizens living in other member states vote there in national elections? - A more comprehensive reform is needed to ensure that mobile citizens can vote
- Should EU citizens living in other member states vote there in national elections?
- Rainer Bauböck: EU citizens should have voting rights in national elections, but in which country?
- Alain Brun: A European or a national solution to the democratic deficit?
- Andrew Duff: EU accession to the ECHR requires ensuring the franchise for EU citizens in national elections
- David Owen: How to enfranchise second country nationals? Test the options for best fit, easiest adoption and lowest costs
- Dimitry Kochenov: What’s in a People? Social Facts, Individual Choice, and the European Union
- Jo Shaw: Testing the bonds of solidarity in Europe’s common citizenship area
- Richard Bellamy: 'An ever closer union among the peoples of Europe': Union citizenship, democracy, rights and the enfranchisement of Second Country Nationals
- Kees Groenendijk: Five pragmatic reasons for a dialogue with and between member states on free movement and voting rights
- Hannes Swoboda: Don’t start with Europeans first. An initiative for extending voting rights should also promote access to citizenship for third country nationals
- Martin Wilhelm: Voting rights and beyond...
- Dora Kostakopoulou: One cannot promote free movement of EU citizens and restrict their political participation
- Ángel Rodríguez: Second country EU citizens voting in national elections is an important step, but other steps should be taken first
- Sue Collard: A more comprehensive reform is needed to ensure that mobile citizens can vote
- Tony Venables: Incremental changes are not enough - voting rights are a matter of democratic principle
- Roxana Barbulescu: Mobile Union citizens should have portable voting rights within the EU
- Concluding remarks by Philippe Cayla and Catriona Seth: Righting democratic wrongs
- All Pages
A more comprehensive reform is needed to ensure that mobile citizens can vote
By Sue Collard (University of Sussex)
My second question relates to the situation of EU citizens who migrate to non-EU countries of which they are not nationals: if national voting rights were guaranteed for EU citizens resident in other Member-States on the grounds that they should not be disenfranchised, would it then be acceptable for other EU citizens to lose their voting rights if they choose to migrate to a non-EU country, such as British citizens settling in the USA? Would this be their punishment for leaving the haven of the EU?
My third question is about third country nationals (TCNs), who are far more numerous than second country nationals (SCNs), as Wilhelm has pointed out: several contributors have made the point that legislation at EU level would be impossible, and that the diversity of Member-States’ political and historical circumstances should in any case be respected, yet clearly the link between these two categories of migrants is fundamental to the EU’s perception of itself as inclusive or exclusive. There are strong arguments in favour of giving voting rights at local elections to long term TCNs, as many Member-States already do, but this should not be at the price of increased xenophobic reactions. The dilemma is well illustrated by the French case: François Mitterrand’s campaign manifesto in 1981 included a pledge to give the right to vote in local elections to all foreigners, but the opposition it aroused, articulated indirectly through the rise of the National Front, meant that this was never implemented. Indeed, France was one of the countries that for various reasons put up strongest resistance in the Maastricht debate to the voting rights enshrined in European Citizenship, but largely because many feared it would be the thin end of the wedge, opening the door to the same rights for TCNs. In spite of the electoral success of the National Front in the presidential elections, Socialist President François Hollande has indeed pledged to do just this, and we should watch closely to see if his government has the courage and political support in the new National Assembly to go through with it, in the face of claims by the mainstream Right as well as the National Front, of an implied ‘drift towards communitarianism’ and the spectre of Muslim-dominated local councils organising women only swimming sessions and banning all pork products from school canteens. The false premise on which this scaremongering is predicated (many Muslims already have French nationality and therefore the right to vote at all elections) is all the more unjustified when one considers the low rates of registration and participation in local elections by non-national EU citizens in France, estimated at under 15%. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that if given the right to vote in local elections, only a small percentage of TCNs would actually use it.
Which brings us to the fourth question of the low mobilising value of voting rights, as pointed out by Wilhelm. Cayla and Seth, ask ‘Who wants to go and live in a country without being able to exercise full democratic rights?’, implying that few would; but the reality is surely otherwise, and it is quite clear from my own research in France and the UK that the vast majority of EU migrants do not take up their right to vote in local elections. Rodriguez’s contribution suggests a similar picture in Spain, and I agree that much more could be done to increase participation at this level before moving into demands for national voting rights. Yet many of the non-national EU citizens that I interviewed, both in France and the UK, were far more concerned by the national vote than the local, and felt it impacted more on the reality of their lives: ‘Why can’t I vote if I pay my taxes?’ was a common complaint. Long term French ex-pats at least retain their right to vote in all elections in France, whereas the British lose all voting rights in the UK after 15 years, even if they continue to pay taxes there.
So what answers can be found to all these questions and what contribution could the proposed ECI make here? Clearly, it makes a mockery of the democratic credentials of the EU if the very mobility that it seeks to encourage, brings with it political disenfranchisement. Member-States should have to recognise this, through a process of concerted action between them and EU institutions, as advocated by Shaw, by adapting their national legislations as necessary: all countries should be encouraged to allow the possibility of dual nationality, and those like the UK and Ireland operating restrictive policies towards ex-pats (at least two cases are currently being taken through the European Court of Human Rights by British ex-pats living in Spain and Italy), should be urged to update their laws in line with the first Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. Within this more permissive legal framework, citizens should be allowed to choose, depending on their circumstances, whether to vote in their country of residence or of nationality, thereby signifying a voluntary act of consent, and in no circumstances should any EU citizen be disenfranchised.
How could these goals be achieved? It is clear that pressure needs to be exerted by citizens on both EU institutions and national governments to bring about the necessary changes, and in this respect the ECI has the great virtue of launching a debate, albeit so far within a very restricted circle of interested individuals. Whilst I do not think its draft objectives are sufficiently well defined or realistic to be successful as it stands, I would be prepared to sign the petition to get the ball rolling towards a wider audience.