Should EU citizens living in other member states vote there in national elections? - Righting democratic wrongs
- 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
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Righting democratic wrongs
By Philippe Cayla (EURONEWS) and Catriona Seth (Université de Lorraine)
We would like to start by stressing a point which the eminent specialists who have expressed their ideas have perhaps not always taken fully into account, i. e. the limits which the very procedure of ECIs imposes. Our ECI’s object has been analysed, but not its starting point: a valiant but fragile citizens’ committee. We are neither an institution within the Union, nor a political party, a trades-union or even a powerful lobby. We are a small group of well-meaning citizens, strong believers in the European cause, but with no means other than those afforded by the ECI’s procedure. The procedure itself is very restrictive: it only allows us to make suggestions which can lead the European Commission to propose legislative measures within the framework of existing treaties. There is no possibility therefore for us to encourage actions in the field of nationality, for instance, or with regard to the rights attributed to third country nationals, as some contributors like Ángel Rodríguez seem to suggest. We feel strongly that such questions are outside our scope. In addition, it must be noted that the requirement of collecting a million signatures within a year is a very tough one and that the only chance of meeting it is for an ECI to have a simple, clear and ambitious object.
What are our ECI’s fundamental objectives? There are three of them:
1) To give European citizenship its full meaning by making it grant access to all fundamental rights, including the right to vote, whatever one’s country of residence. It is a principle of equality for Europeans.
2) To give mobility (i.e. the principle of free movement within Europe) its full scope.
3) Finally, to give the democratic principle, ‘No taxation without representation’ its full meaning. This is a consequence of applying the principle of solidarity to all residents.
This principle, which launched the American Revolution, is already recognised locally, as Kees Groenendijk stresses. It must be extended at regional and national levels too: Europeans resident in the EU pay income tax as well as local taxes. Currently, we are being taxed and some of us, like the pigs in Animal Farm, are more equal than others. Even the Commission has to agree that this is the case, as Andrew Duff’s recent exchange about the European Convention on Human Rights shows.
In this context, let us take another look at some of the objections set out by certain contributors.
Answer: clearly, if the principle of free circulation is to apply, any European has to be able to move to another EU country whenever s/he wants to – why not every year if the labour market makes this desirable? One can recall here that Olivier Blanchard, the IMF Chief Economist had imagined in 1998 that the Euro zone could fail because of lack of fluidity in the European labour market. Asking EU nationals to acquire another EU nationality in order to be able to vote does not seem to offer an apposite answer: in these changing times, many of us will live and study in several EU states within our lifetime – Sue Collard helpfully gives a couple of examples of people concerned by such moves. Does this mean that each time we take up residence in a country we should pick up the nationality, thanks to simplified procedures? Or would this not debase the concept, were we to end up, routinely, with three, four or five passports? As Rainer Bauböck suggests, citizenship should be seen as a lifelong status. Unlike him we feel that, as a result, one EU passport should be enough for anyone: citizenship of any EU nation should make one an EU citizen, wherever one lives. This is not to preclude anyone from holding a second EU citizenship or to deny anyone dual nationality. Acquiring a country’s passport should not, however, be a prerequisite in order to vote in its national elections if one is already an EU citizen within the Union. As Alain Brun puts it in a nutshell: ‘I understand European citizenship as the right to be considered as a national by any Member State other than the one whose nationality I hold, as soon as I am in relation with its authorities, in one way or another.’ Or, to echo Dimitry Kochenov’s words: ‘Since Member State nationalities are in the absolute majority of cases legally inconsequential for EU citizens travelling around the EU, connecting democratic participation with naturalisation amounts to artificially inflating the importance of an abolished status.’ In addition, Roxana Barbulescu makes a very interesting comment when she opposes the individual solution of naturalisation and the collective process of enfranchisement of EU citizens.
2) Second objection: it is more urgent to improve the current situation, viz access to and participation in municipal and European elections, and prudent to limit the demand for new rights for Europeans to regional elections.
Answer: be that as it may, such a proposal would never be attractive enough to collect a million signatures. We fail, in addition, to see the legitimacy of giving limited voting rights to EU citizens. Why should it be alright for them to elect their mayor, but not the member of a legislative assembly or a president? A collateral advantage of our ECI is that granting EU citizens full voting rights in their host country would probably increase general awareness of – and interest in – European elections. This would in turn almost certainly boost the turnout and the visibility of such polls. A bold and supranational step, such as the one we propose, would also give Europe a more definite structure, de facto, rather than leaving it stuck in a halfway house between a confederation and an association.
3) Further amendment: conditions of residence and the question of whether one could potentially vote in two countries need to be envisaged.
4) Last objection: dealing with third-country nationals is paramount.
There are clearly political, philosophical and legal aspects to take into account – there would also be economic consequences to any change in the status quo. Debates about EU citizenship are, more than ever, debates about the future of Europe itself – and thus carry huge symbolic value too. Hannes Swoboda rightly affirms that ‘the necessary evolution of EU citizenship leads to a gradually growing relevance of residence as [the] defining criterion for the exercise of related rights.’ As in clothes shops where ‘one size fits all’ generally means nothing will be a perfect fit for anyone, our ECI falls short of some people’s ideal scenario. The five options David Owen sets out offer unequal advantages, though he stresses that the ECI ticks a number of boxes. Obviously we are aware that obtaining and implementing voting rights for EU nationals in their country of residence (or allowing them to choose between voting in their home country and their state of residence) will be an uphill struggle. However, Tony Venables hits the nail on the head when he states that ‘the right to vote is so fundamental to democracy that any arguments reflecting the difficulties of putting it into effect pale into insignificance’.
The different cases made for and against our ECI in the EUDO forum debate have but strengthened our resolve. There is broad consensus that the current situation is untenable. The idea that our proposal is ‘timely’ is mentioned several times and we can only see this as an encouragement, along with the fact that most contributors affirm that they will sign it. We are grateful to them for this. We believe, more than ever, that our case is a strong one. The fact that our ECI has been officially validated shows that our proposal does not fall outside the Commission’s scope. Next year (2013) is the European year of citizens. Let us do all we can, together, to right democratic wrongs and endow European citizens with full voting rights wherever they choose to reside within the EU.
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