“A man without a vote is a man without protection”, according to Lyndon B. Johnson. About 3% of EU citizens live in a EU member state other than their own, according to Eurostat. A very simplistic Aristotelian syllogism at this point would lead to the conclusion that almost 3% of EU citizens live with only partial protection. Let us start off by saying that the fact that voting is one of the most important political rights individuals have is not an opinion but a matter of fact. It is enshrined in Art.1 of the Italian Constitution. It is enshrined in Art.38 of the German Grundgesetz. It is enshrined in the first three articles of the French Constitution.
Yet, it is not enshrined in daily life of EU citizens who decide or are forced to move to another member state. Currently, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and subsequent legislation, confers to EU citizens residing in another member state the right to vote and stand in European, as well as, local elections. This is about half of the voting rights if we consider that normally, citizens in their home country can vote for local, regional, national and European elections (even less than half if we also consider referenda). Quite surprisingly, this apparently old-fashioned and ideologically driven topic is getting more and more attention from civil society around the EU. It is the case of the European Citizens’ Initiative, launched some months ago under the name “Let me vote!”. The initiative has the simple but noble ambition to actually ensure that citizens living in another EU country have a right to be part of decisions that will affect their lives, such as the election of a government. Not that outrageous of a request, is it?
Definitely surprising is the more recent case of the protest of Italian ERASMUS students. Under current rules, correspondence voting for national elections for Italians temporarily abroad (such as ERASMUS, interns, regular students, etc.) is not allowed. Some of these students managed to put together a Facebook group for the occasion of the February 2013 elections (named “Studenti italiani che non potranno votare alle prossime elezioni”), which received 5000 likes in just a couple of days. This brought the issue on all major national media, which in turn led to political figures such as Mario Monti and Androulla Vassiliou giving a response to these protests. Of course, the response from the Italian council of ministers was something along the lines of “we support you, but unfortunately we cannot help you”. These two initiatives, independently from their level of success, show that too many citizens today, in the deeply developed and democratic EU, are denied one of their basic rights due to their decision to exercise another right, that of free movement. Would now not be a good time to end the dichotomy between moving and voting?
Article By Emanuele Guicciardi