Deadline looms for Brussels expat voter registration

Written by Martin Banks on 30 July 2018 in News

Expats in Brussels are being reminded of the 31 July deadline for registering to vote in communal elections later this year.

Photo credit: Fotolia

It is feared that many of the foreigners in Brussels who are eligible to vote in October’s local elections have still not yet registered to do so. These include many working in the EU institutions.

An appeal has now been made to those who have not yet registered to do so before the 31 July deadline to join the electoral roll.

On Monday, Karin Impens, deputy to the Brussels Commissioner Alain Hutchinson, said, “As expats account for about 22 per cent of the electorate, more than 50 per cent in certain communes, they can make a difference. In most communes, a few hundred votes could change the outcome.”

More than 300,000 EU citizens live in Brussels’ 19 communes, representing nearly one quarter of the electorate.

Impens said, “EU citizenship gives every EU citizen the right to vote and stand as candidate in municipal and European Parliament elections regardless of whether they are a national of the EU country in which they reside, and this under the same conditions as nationals.”

Awareness campaigns for EU citizens to register were conducted by the former Brussels-Europe Liaison Office in 2000, 2006 and 2012. Despite large scale information campaigns in and with the support of the European institutions, registration remained disappointingly low, around 13.7 per cent of the electorate.

A Brussels city council source said the low voter turnout does not correlate with the impact local government has on the day-to-day lives of citizens. 

Representing nearly 25 per cent of all voters in Belgium, Brussels is home to one of the largest expat communities in the world. Expats aren’t without political power and the source said participation “could prove significant, even decisive in the ballot.”

Impens agreed, saying it is important to vote because “your commune affects your daily life much more than you think.

“Communes in Belgium have more powers than local authorities do in most European countries and can defend your interests with regional and national authorities.

Communes make decisions that directly affect daily life: the development of your neighbourhood and its public and green spaces, cleanliness, parking, housing, education, and much more. Communes can be most accessible and responsive to citizens.”

Those allowed to vote include all residents who have the nationality of a European Union member state and who are registered in the population or foreigners register on 1 August. Those who hold a special identity card and are at least 18 years old on 14 October can also vote.

Earlier this year, research by Vote Brussels showed only nine per cent of EU citizens and six per cent of eligible non-EU citizens had registered at that time. The figure is similar to the same period before the 2012 local elections.

Foreigners make up a large chunk of the potential electorate in Brussels. There are about 300,000 non-Belgians who are entitled to vote in their communes 14 October. About three quarters are EU citizens, and the other quarter are non-EU citizens who have lived here for at least five years.
Saint-Gilles is the Brussels municipality with the highest percentage of foreigners, 48 per cent. In Ixelles, 46 per cent of residents are not Belgian.

The survey by Vote Brussels and The Bulletin showed a lack of information was one of the main reasons why so few foreigners had joined the electoral register, with most unaware that they can register by post and de-register whenever they wish.

Some 39 per cent of non-Belgians said they would definitely be voting. Another 30 per cent said they might vote. Among those who were not fully interested in voting, more than half did not know if they were eligible, or how to proceed. 

The results were analysed by a non-partisan campaign coordinated by Migration Policy Group, co-funded by the EU Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020 of the European Union.


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine


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