European citizens and their voting rights – by Niels Jørgen Thøgersen

European Citizens – And Their Voting Rights

The right to participate in political elections should be obvious

Niels Jørgen Thøgersen

President of Europeans Throughout the World


One of the most fundamental European values ​​is our democracy . A democracy that gives all citizens the right to participate in our political elections, whether they are local , regional, national or European elections. The details of the way our democracies work vary from country to country. But the basic principle is the same: everybody –  some 400 million European adults have the right to participate in all elections – and the right to stand as candidates in these elections .

This is also one of the clear-cut conditions for a country to join the European Union.

But this is still not the case for everyone. More than 15 % of European citizens live in another country than the one they were born in. They are ” expatriate citizens ” – or ” expats ” . Most of these Europeans do not have the full right to participate in all elections – or the right to stand as candidates in these elections.

This is clearly against the whole spirit of European values. In addition, it must be in the interest of all countries, that the citizens living in the country, are well integrated and participate as fully as possible in all its activities.

This can also be said in a different way:

When a European exercising his or her right to free movement within the EU  he or she is as a direct consequence deprived of their democratic rights.

And one more thing: everybody regrets the general decline in political interest and activity. It is, therefore, also in that context very regrettable that its governments eliminate the political rights of millions of citizens just because they move to another country.

This problem has over the years been debated on many occasions – unfortunately without significant results. But since the development of our increasingly globalized world means that more and more Europeans are working and living in another country – inside or outside Europe – the importance of solving this problem becomes bigger and bigger.

Some European countries are in different ways trying to solve parts of the problem. In countries such as France, Italy and Portugal their citizens in other countries can elect a number of MPs for their parliaments. In other countries – such as Sweden and Finland so-called “Expat Parliaments” are organized every year or every second year. Participants from their citizens abroad gather and discuss topics of particular interest to them. And the government ministers participate in these meetings and try afterwards to follow-up to the recommendations from these expat parliaments.

Yet other countries (such as the Netherlands, Greece , Romania and Hungary ) have special government offices responsible for assisting their citizens abroad .

And as for direct participation in elections the picture is also very diverse. In the UK, other EU citizens living in the country, may vote in elections to the regional assemblies/parliaments, and to local elections, if they sign up. And British citizens in other countries can do the same for up to 15 years after they left the UK . In most other countries, EU citizens (after a few years’ stay in the country) may vote in local elections and European Parliament elections – but not national elections . It is moreover a rule written directly into the European Fundamental Rights, Section 39 and 40.  They are part of the EU’s Lisbon treaty from 2009 and therefore legally binding for everybody.

In France and Spain members of their parliaments have recently proposed that citizens from other EU countries who live in the country, should be allowed to vote in national elections. These proposals will now be discussed among the two countries’ parliamentarians.

As for the elections to the European Parliament every 5 years , the situation is again different. A total of 24 EU countries ( out of 28) agree that their own citizens living in other EU countries may vote. And 20 of them also agree that their citizens living in non-EU countries may vote in these elections.  But so far few expats do so.


What should be done about it?

The organization ETTW ( Europeans Throughout the World) sees it as one of its main tasks to resolve this fundamental European democratic problem.

It should in our view be solved by the following changes:

1 ) Any European citizen should have the right to vote either in the country, he or she is born in, or in the country he or she is living in. And it should apply to all public elections at all levels

2 ) Every European should (after a short period of stay) also have the right to be a candidate for political elections in the country he or she lives in.

This is our main objective as far as electoral rights for expats are concerned.

In the short term it will – in the view of ETTW – be very positive to motivate as many expats as possible ( by those who have the right to participate today) to participate actively in the European elections in May 2014. No matter where they live in Europe or the world in general .

This can help to stimulate interest in active participation in the democratic process. And it can also help to bring the many problems – and opportunities – which expats represent, directly into the democratic process at European level and in the long term in the individual EU member states as well.

We will, therefore, launch a campaign to convince European expats to use their voting rights in the European elections on May 22-25, 2014.


Niels Jørgen Thøgersen – President of ETTW

January 2014