“A Dane is Rostock’s new mayor” trumpeted German newspaper Ostsee-Zeitung on 16 June 2019, when Claus Ruhe Madsen was elected leader of the Hanseatic city. While on 28 September 2020, the publication Romania Insider announced: “2020 Romania local elections: Young German elected mayor of Timișoara”.
For both countries, it was a sensation that non-nationals had been elected. But can European Union citizens truly run for mayor anywhere in the EU without being nationals?
The answer is yes … sort of. Article 40 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states: “Every citizen of the union has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections in the Member State in which he or she resides under the same conditions as nationals of that state.”
However, there can be exceptions. The Council Directive 94/80/EC of 19 December 1994 sets the rules for the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections. Article 5 (3) states: “Member States may provide that only their own nationals may hold the office of elected head, deputy or member of the governing college of the executive of a basic local government unit if elected to hold office for the duration of his mandate.”
Restrictions on the office of mayor apply, for instance, in Belgium: while non-Belgian EU nationals can be members of the municipal council, they can’t become mayor.
The rules also differ from region to region. In the German state of Bavaria, the post of mayor is reserved for German citizens – meaning that Ruhe Madsen could not have been elected in Munich or Nuremberg.
The rules, however, could be changing. In February, MEPs adopted two proposals to improve the conditions for EU citizens living in another Member State who would like to participate in local and European elections. These measures would also stymie attempts to reserve top local government positions exclusively for nationals. The Council is currently examining the proposals at a technical level, so watch this space.
According to data from 2020, about 13.3 million EU citizens reside in an EU Member State that is not their country of origin; of these, more than 11 million are allowed to vote. However, the share differs strongly between Member States. With nearly 39 per cent of the population, Luxembourg had the largest share of citizens from another EU Member State, while Poland has the least with 0.1 per cent.