Irene Lozano is a member of parliament in Spain. She wrote this opinion in support of the Let Me Vote campaign towards the European elections in May.
The European Union shares a common feature with puppies. When dogs are only a few months old they grow so quickly that they tend move in funny ways, bump into things or fall down unexpectedly. They don’t know exactly where their bodies end.
The EU, which is still younger and more immature than we tend to believe, has grown very quickly on some issues. Particularly, it has made huge efforts to become a space for the freedom of movement. But as far as individuals are concerned, all the progress made in favour of this freedom has had some negative effects. One of the most visible and unfair ones is that European citizens cannot vote in national elections in a different country, even if they have been living there for decades. It is as absurd as a puppy bumping into things, isn’t it?
The policies in favour of the freedom of movement have been successful. Nowadays, many Europeans live in a country of the Union different from the one they are nationals of. The political weirdness comes from the fact that they can get public health services or their university degree is recognized, but they cannot vote in the national elections in the country they currently live. Why? An old-fashioned sense of sovereignty is getting in the way of European citizenship, and is even creating second class citizens all over Europe.
The world democratic space par excellence does not recognize the most basic political right to those Europeans who, following their leaders speeches about being a European, decided to move to and live in another member state of the Union. Some countries, like Britain, deprive their nationals of the right to vote in their own country after they have spent several years abroad. Therefore these citizens are no full citizens in their country of birth, neither full citizens in their country of residence. Does it make any sense at all?
In Spain, several parties are working together in Parliament to solve this problem. Personally, I think this is a great momentum to change this absurdity. The political unity of Europe needs to be reinforced and citizens need to feel that this Union is there to serve them, not to put obstacles in their way. Spanish parties are having talks about the Let me Vote initiative – it has been registered as a European Citizens' Initiative to ask for recognition of the right to vote to every European citizen. We think that this change is not a hard task as long as all the EU countries decide to do it reciprocally - even when constitutional change is needed, as will probably be the case in Spain. From my point of view, wherever there is a European, his or her right to vote must be guaranteed: one European, one vote – no matter where.
The freedom of movement for people was in fact the first stretch on Europe’s path towards political union. The second is a European citizenship, a concept that was solidified in the Treaty of Maastricht. Its article 8 establishes that every individual who has the nationality of one member state has the European citizenship as well. This was set in 1992 and now, more than 20 years later, we have a great opportunity to contribute to a real European citizenship that can be felt by European citizens and help them get involved.
Recognizing this right to vote, despite borders abolished years ago, is fundamental to keep Europe as the land of democracy, to build the European citizenship and to involve citizens in this fascinating project. We need these three things more badly than ever, don’t we?