EU member states under fire over expat voting restrictions

Written by Martin Banks and Lorna Hutchinson on 1 October 2018 in News

Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikström has branded the hurdles an “infringement of EU law”.

Photo credit: Press Association

MEPs will be asked this week to pile pressure on the European Commission and Council to protect the rights of expats to vote in May’s European elections.

At present, citizens of the UK, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Malta do not have the right to vote in national elections when they reside elsewhere in the EU.

For example, a British citizen who has lived abroad for more than 15 years forfeits the right to vote.

The campaign to remove the voting restrictions, which will be debated during this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg, is being led by ALDE group MEP Cecilia Wikström, a petitions committee member, who has previously tabled questions to the commission on the issue.

"Limiting or depriving citizens of their right to vote once they move to another EU country could be seen as an infringement of freedom of movement under EU law”  Cecilia Wikström MEP

“[The right to vote in elections] is a fundamental right common to the constitutional traditions of the member states and recognised in the EU treaties as related to the right of political participation,” Wikström said.

“Participation in the democratic life of the EU and the enjoyment of electoral rights by EU citizens living abroad in another member state has frequently been the subject of petitions,” she added.

The restrictions were introduced by the six member states based on the assumption that expats are not affected by political decisions taken in their country of origin.

But an ALDE spokesman said Wikström had received “many, many” letters and emails from citizens who felt disenfranchised by this removal of voting rights, which he dubbed “an infringement of EU law.”

“This could affect peoples’ right to vote in the European elections in May and that is one reason why we want to know if the commission and council intend to do anything about this,” he added.

Wikström also has Spain and Portugal in her crosshairs, as there are insufficient or no facilities to vote from abroad, which she deems a hindrance to exercising the right to vote.

“Limiting or depriving citizens of their right to vote once they move to another EU country could be seen as an infringement of freedom of movement under EU law,” she said.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

Lorna Hutchinson is a reporter and sub-editor at the Parliament Magazine

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