ETTW News September 2021

  1. Involving and engaging expatriates in the political and cultural life of their countries of origin.

Based on several member associations’ and partners’ practical experiences with campaigning to engage diasporas in the political and cultural life in their home countries, ETTW set up a series of web discussions on that subject in the first half of 2021.

As the experiences were had during the dire corona lockdown periods, special attention was given to efficient methods of online contact and engagement via the social media. Updated and creative methods of influencing different groups of expats had particularly good results in the Baltic states – Latvia and Lithuania. But also in the Netherlands a very active effort was made prior to the general Dutch elections in March.

In order to discuss the methods and results, a series of web-seminars and thematic discussions were organized. The first on February 12th, entitled ‘Showcasing Civic Initiatives’, presented the Lithuanian and Latvian campaigns. In both cases, the purpose was to make citizens’ right to vote in their countries of origin a reality by reaching out to diasporas with information about the issues and give new energy to the process of registration and voting.

In a way, the two campaigns were complementary: the Lithuanian efforts centered on identifying and contacting their biggest and most attractive diaspora communities, “the big fish”, via the social media in order to increase the actual voting percentage, using high profile, dynamic volunteers. The Latvians focused on “bringing the mountain to Mohammed” by making the act of voting much less complicated and by facilitating the access to – and increasing the number of – voting stations and ballot boxes abroad.

Both methods had very positive results. For Lithuania: out of 43.000 registered expat voters 36.000 voted, and as a result they now have an MP to represent them in parliament. For Latvia the figure was 32.000 which would equal 4 mandates in the Latvian parliament.

The zoom-webinar was recorded and can easily be accessed on the ETTW website.

For the web-streamed Board meeting on 22 April, we had asked our Dutch members, Stichting Nederlanders Buiten Nederland, SNBN, to introduce a thematic discussion by presenting its recent campaign, aiming at engaging more Dutch diasporas in the parliamentary elections which took place on March 18.

Of the more than 500.000 Dutch expatriates 93.000 are registered to vote, and 89.000 voted, using postal votes. 63.000 letters were declared valid, but 29 percent of all letters were not. However, only 3% of the registered voters used the possibility to vote by proxy (power of attorney) which was a surprise to our Dutch members, who had considered this method especially attractive for mobile citizens.

SNBN had considerable success with their creation of lobby programs within the political parties to make them include topics important for citizens abroad. Also establishing voting guides, issuing newsletters to the Dutch diasporas and organizing a worldwide debate in the media ahead of elections proved to be efficient.

SNBN noted that interestingly the young pan-European party, VOLT, got 3 seats in the new Dutch parliament.

  1. Engaging Mobile Citizens in Governance

As this web discussion raised new questions concerning diaspora voters, another webinar was set up. This time on 29th June under the headline ‘Engaging Mobile Citizens in Governance’.  Here it was established that in practice success depends on the diaspora associations’ national, regional and local groups being able to function as cultural networks and bridges between the home countries and the countries of residence.

The Lithuanian team ‘LT Diaspora’ presented its successful campaign aiming at engaging the diaspora in civic, educational and cultural issues between elections. The point of departure is that a priori their expatriates are not aware that they can vote, how they can vote and which options they have where they live. So, the team provides a platform with relevant answers to the simple but complex question: ‘what does it mean to be an engaged Lithuanian citizen abroad today?’ And it tries to give reliable answers in regular sessions with key figures in the expatriate communities in the periods between elections. Its efforts also include educating journalists in diaspora engagement and in the usefulness for them to connect with diaspora groups.

The Dutch member SNBN’s more thorough analysis of their campaign gave interesting results. For example, that the low frequency of expat voters using proxy voting had to do with voters’ age (as expatriates) and geographical proximity to their home country. It also showed that those who had been reached by the SNBN campaign had a considerable higher tendency to use proxy voting than the rest of the diaspora votes.

The Zoom webinar was recorded, and the details of the surveys and campaign results can easily be accessed via the ETTW website and on our facebook page.

  1. The pandemic and free movement

ETTW has followed the development of free movement rights during the pandemic. Our President has issued op-eds in the European media on the strict, protective measures undertaken by national governments, violating these rights, and their consequences for mobile citizens. On June 3 we organized a webinar with our Romanian member, ROMBEL, The COVID Pandemic and Return Migration – the Romanian Example. Here we focused on the Pandemic and return migration – brain drain vs. brain-gain – with case examples especially from the healthcare sector and testimonies from returned medical staff.  After the very interesting (and sometimes even moving) webinar, ROMBEL has contacted the contributing speakers with a view to present a comprehensive joint report in the fall.

In the spring the Commission followed up on its European Citizenship Report 2020 with initiatives relevant for diasporas. Under the joint title Inclusive EU Elections it’ll publish updated and renewed directives concerning mobile EU citizens’ right to vote and stand as candidates in European elections in their countries of residence. ETTW issued an opinion on these questions in 2020 and contributed to the public consultation, which ended on July 12th. See the ETTW website.

ETTW has cooperated with the ECIT Foundation and New Europeans to create a Cross-Party Group in the European Parliament on European Citizenship. On June 18 a launch meeting was set up in Strasbourg with MEP’s from different political groups – Renew, S&D and The United Left. ETTW will take up the question of developing a coordinated European diaspora policy in the cross-party group.

  1. Organizational News – welcome back to the Nordic associations.

The Nordic expatriates’ organizations are back as full members of ETTW. For various reasons the Nordic national associations suspended their full ETTW membership in 2019, pending the updating and revamping of the ETTW organization and our procedures. As of the 2nd semester of 2021 Danes Worldwide, Swedes Worldwide and The Finland Society have decided to resume full membership. (The Norwegian expat association, Norwegians Worldwide, has recently merged with the Norway-America Association).

Good to have you back full time!

  1. Themes for the fall

In our interesting discussions in the spring on how to better engage expat citizens in the cultural and political lives of their countries of origin there were many subthemes which, we concluded, merited more exchange of best practices and deeper and more thorough analyses. This will be a main priority in the coming months.

Among the themes are:

  • Better use of existing possibilities for voting from abroad. And new thinking – for example in the area of voting by proxy and about creating more modern and more flexible systems for registration and voting.
  • More than five years ago ETTW launched a campaign for i-voting, which started a useful debate. But now we need to rethink i-voting for mobile citizens in the light of the current, justified concerns about it-security, hacking and protection of privacy.
  • How to influence and even educate the media more efficiently and more thoroughly about the practical and cultural needs of expats. At the same time stressing the diaspora’s role as an – often hidden – resource for the home countries.
  • How to strengthen diaspora teams’ skills for efficiently targeting different segments of their mobile citizens – youths, seniors, students, professionals etc.
  • How to use the digital experience from the pandemic in strengthening the teaching of the home countries’ culture and language.
  • The pandemic underlined a need for different diaspora groups in the same country/capital/city to liaise. Should this horizontal approach be reflected and encouraged by ETTW?
  1. Frequencies of meetings and webinars

In several of our zoom meetings in the spring it was stressed how important timing is for the success of these events. In the mornings, around noon or at the end of the working day? At the same time, it is evident that traditional physical meetings are not going to be set up with the same frequency as before the corona. It also seems certain that for a foreseeable future we’ll have to rely on web-events and hybrid-meetings.

In order to respect the ETTW statutes we need to have at least one more Board meeting and General Assembly this year – possibly in November – and for the webinars we’ll need to make a planning for two or three in the course of the fall.

We’ll try to do a doodling to find dates and times that are acceptable to most members and partners.

August 2021,

Steen Illeborg

Secretary General