Bursting the Bubble

Equal Voting Rights For All European Citizens

17 January 2014 | by

Responsible citizenship is a concept resounding throughout the ages. It is widely acknowledged that participating in a vote is the pinnacle essence of living in a democracy. It is what people have fought, and are still fighting for all around the world. After years of fighting for this right, and blood being spilt fighting for it in Europe – the call of voting in elections should resonate in all Europeans.

In Europe, citizens are “directly represented at the Union level in the European Parliament”[1] and as such, hold the right “to participate in the democratic life of the Union.”[2] Yet, the natural complexity of this citizen engagement appears when one considers the notion of freedom of movement and the right of member states to determine voting processes. European children are raised with the notion that varying location is simply a matter of geography. As such, the number of Europeans studying, working and living in member states, aside from their native member state, is increasing. Not only are Europeans increasingly expressing their right of movement in Europe, but with the interconnectivity of today’s world you can find European citizens in practically every country around the globe.

“EU citizenship is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States”[3], and these internationally oriented Europeans, whether in the EU or outside the EU, are no exception. Logic tells us that as such, a European, no matter their location, should be able to vote, and therefore choose how they are represented in the European Parliament. But this is not the case. 

The unfortunate truth is that one’s ability to vote, which is undeniably considered a fundamental right, is dependent upon not only one’s country of origin, but also one’s residence. This makes the entire endeavour to fulfil your responsibility as a citizen to vote, extremely complicated and so difficult that many give up trying.

An Irish citizen who lives in The Netherlands cannot vote for Irish Members of European Parliament (MEPs), while a Danish citizen can vote for his country’s constituency even if he resides in another EU member state. However, a Danish citizen living in the U.S. cannot vote at all, while a French citizen can. The ways in which citizens living abroad can vote also differs depending on the member state of origin. Some can only use postal voting, some only can vote at diplomatic posts, while others use proxy voting or e-voting.

EU citizens currently do not have equal rights to vote in European elections if they reside outside of their member state of origin. With around 13 million European citizens living abroad in the EU, and over 10 million outside of the EU, the number of individuals impacted by this inequality of voting is akin to the population of Romania – a member state which is represented by 33 MEPs.

Recently the discrepancies in voting rights, not only in the EP elections but also national elections, have been widely discussed in the European Union. With the efforts of those behind the ECI entitled ‘Let Me Vote’, there has been an increasing scrutiny of the current voting procedures, and voting rights in the European Union. While the ECI ‘Let Me Vote’ is going to time out of the ECI system by the end of this January, the organization has made great strides in urging European citizens to think about what impacts their voting rights.

Created separately from the ‘Let Me Vote’ initiative, with the founder being a European citizen thousands of miles away – there is another new initiative gaining attention for addressing the discrepancies in voting, specifically the European Parliament elections. Founded by Olivier Nataf, European Citizens Abroad believes that the “European Parliament represents all EU citizens, not just citizens currently in the EU.”

Citizen involvement in democratic processes is essential to the European Union in the 21st century and wherever Europeans live, they must have the same rights as any other European.

As said by European Citizens Abroad founder Olivier Nataf, “We are determined to bring about the change that is required to make the EU a more modern and vibrant democracy, considerate of all its citizens and ready to take our society forward with confidence and a renewed sense of European citizenship regardless of the country of residence.”

While undeniably, the member states currently retain the right to establish voting principles, the freedom of movement that is so strongly encouraged in the EU, and the frequency by which it is invoked, draws into question the irony that voting rights are not equal for EU citizens when abroad. With the 2014 European Parliament election on the horizon, we must remember those Europeans away from home, who are currently wondering ‘Can I even vote in this election?’



[1] Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

[2] Treaty on the European Union – Title II, Article 10

[3] ECJ – Case C – 184/99 – Rudy Grzelczyk v Centre Public D’aide sociale d’Ottignies-Louvain-La-Neuve

10 Comments

  1. I never realised this… it is sad that this has not been addressed/fixed at the EU level. I understand the whole nationalist/national right argument but voting is so fundamental. The EU needs to act. Maybe all those MEPs missing out on those votes from abroad should act on behalf of the people and start questioning this.

  2. Is this article just addressing the issue that European citizens “no matter their location, should be able to vote, and therefore choose how they are represented in the European Parliament”? The national voting rights of EU citizens in their state of citizenship are also limited despite freedom of movement within the EU by 6 out of 28 member states ie Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Malta and the UK.

    British expatriate citizens resident within another EU state can still vote in UK national elections and choose to vote in European elections where they are resident or in the UK for up to 15 years. After 15 years they lose the right to vote in UK national & European elections but can still vote in European elections in the EU member state in which they are resident.

  3. Rodney – The point that is overarching here, and what you seem to support – is that voting rights need to be examined at the EU level so as to reveal discrepencies such as what you say with ‘The national voting rights of EU citizens in their state of citizenship are also limited despite freedom of movement’. The Author (Ms. Levanti, correct me if I am wrong) isn’t saying that national voting rights of EU citizens is perfect at all – I think she is just addressing specifically the EU elections since those are what is coming up this Spring and prominent on the minds of potential EU voters. Right now, voting (whether at the national or EU level) is controlled by the member state themselves – I personally think that pressure from the EU level needs to be put on the MSs to streamline their policies, or inevitably this should be something regulated at the EU level since Freedom of Movement is, and always will be a fundamental right.

    • Thanks, Anthony. That clarifies it for me and I agree your conclusion (particularly wrt the UK’s 15 -year-rule in my case ) “that pressure from the EU level needs to be put on the MSs to streamline their policies, or inevitably this should be something regulated at the EU level since Freedom of Movement is, and always will be a fundamental right”.

  4. Natasha Marie Levanti

    Anthony & Rodney, Thank you so much for engaging with the topic at hand. Yes Anthony, you are correct in the purpose being to draw attention to discrepancies in ability to vote amongst EU citizens – at all levels. I have chosen to concentrate on the European Parliament elections for this article to ensure that I am being clear with how this is a problem, and of course since it is occurring this May. Voting rights regarding national elections is also a ‘hot’ topic which I would like to cover, but in order to give the proper attention and clarification of the issues it will have to be another article.

    These discrepancies in voting rights should concern European citizens, particularly those who are exercising their right to freedom of movement. However, most European citizens for the majority of their lives remain in their country of origin, so they must be made aware of the problem before it is likely to be taken up due to public momentum. Hopefully initiatives such as Let Me Vote and European Citizens Abroad (Hyperlinks to these are in the above article) will help to raise awareness of this as an issue both with those Europeans exercising their freedom of movement, as well as those who chose to stay in their MS of origin.

    • Thank you for your response, Natasha. You have also identified a major problem in eg gaining media & parliamentary attention in support of retaining full national voting rights in an EU citizen’s country of origin ie “most European citizens for the majority of their lives remain in their country of origin, so they must be made aware of the problem before it is likely to be taken up due to public momentum.”
      I look forwards to hopefully another article from you covering this ‘hot’ topic when you have time.

  5. I’m from the United States and an immigrant. This is the first time I search for European stuff. To my understanding the just power of our government is instuted from the consent of the governed and many things were done to divide such power. Our legislative body was originally developed to represent the people(the house) and the state (the senate) because it makes sense to have discussions between the two before a law is establish that effects them both. My view is that the people of one state can not tell another state what to do on certain issues. Here in California money was raised to help Texas women pay for abortion. It is important to note California and Texas both differ on guns and abortion. It is also worthy to note many people are moving to Texas because of a thriving economy (People want to move to America, Americans want to move to Texas). As people migrate they bring along ideas. In my view Texas is the last strong hold on freedom in the whole plant. What Texas is doing when it comes to how they govern their people should stay out of everyone’s business(what people from other states think) and let the people of Texas decide what is best for them. What makes America special is that we are closer to the laws of Nature then the laws made by Man. Our natural rights can never be taken away.

    • Jorge – Do you realize that this site is intended to be on European affairs, not on which state is the best in the United States? However, since you are on the subject, and I am an American by birth with a Masters in American Political History – I want to tell you a couple things (Sorry to the Author & others who made Comments – but I don’t want this to be the American impression you receive)
      To explain (in very simple terms) the structure of your ‘adopted homeland’ since you seem to misunderstand the governance structure – the legislative body of the United States was formed into the house and the senate because the small states did not want representation based solely upon population & larger states did not want a small state to carry the same weight in voting as one two to three times the size. They work separately to come to a conclusion about a topic so there are most assuredly NOT open discussions between the two bodies. Of course, in the United States the different states have different ways of regulating certain things, which is given by the rights of the states and allowed as long as it is not in violation with the laws of or rights given by the United States to its citizens. This is a good thing for the rest of us, since Texas requires people who hold office to acknowledge the ‘existence of a Supreme Being’ (Texas Constitution), does not allow evolution to be taught in the mainstream curriculum, caused the censoring of the Encyclopedia Brittanica because it contained a recipe for home brewed beer, has made it illegal to shoot a buffalo from the second story of a hotel or to milk another person’s cow. In the 1970s, Texas was seriously considering an anti-crime bill requiring 24 hours written or verbal notice to the victim of a crime before the crime occurred. (“Failure to Warn Victim of Crime” in the LRL Legislative Archive System) It is also the state which had to have a law from 2003 overturned by the Supreme Court which criminalized homosexual sodomy but not heterosexual sodomy. (Lawrence v. Texas) – – – Thankfully for the rest of the world, these Wild West or simply ridiculous laws do not make it to the national system. Like it or not my friend, Texas is a part of the U.S. and if the U.S. government passes something – Texas WILL have to comply. You must remember, as much as you seem to be for the laws of nature – you live in a society with other people, so your way of life can only be allowed in that it does not inflict upon the liberty of others. It is interesting you picked a heavily controversial, religious centred state to choose as being the best, and ironic given you endorse natural law. The United States, with some of the most complex legal structures in the world – is very far from the laws of nature. And aside from the Tea Party – most Americans want to stay far from ‘natural law’.

      • Federalist paper 39 James Madison ” The house of Representatives will derive its power from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion and on the same principles as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is national, not federal. The Senate on the other hand will derive its power from the states as political and coequal societies..” Making the government federal. This forces accountability and deliberation from the senators and the state’s legislature. I would rather put my trust on Mr Madison than anything from what a proffesional tells me at this point. You did not even mention the 17th amendmeny of 1913. Lastly.” and to assume among the powers of the earth, separation and equal station of which the laws of nature and nature’s god entitle them.

        • Jorge, Good thing you cite the 17th amendment, since if you read it you would know that it changed the Senate to also being elected by the people, as opposed to being chosen by state legislatures – making both aspects of US congress a reflection of the choice of the people – an American should know that, since you vote for Senators as well as members of the house. As far as laws of nature, god osv. it seems like you forget a founding American principle of separation of church and state. One that Texas is notorious for confusing.

          I must support Stephen as being correct in this. And put an emphasis that Jorge – debating American politics has nothing to do with this site or the article at hand, which is clearly discussing the rights of Europeans for voting in the European elections, as well as European voting rights at all levels. No area of the EU will ever be Texas – Which I am thankful for.

What do you think?