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