Reding defends right to vote for EU expats


The European Commission has issued guidance to member states that currently have rules preventing their citizens from voting in national or regional elections because they live in another EU country.

Commission wants member states to keep voting rights for EU citizens abroad

At the moment Denmark, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and the United Kingdom have all applied voting regimes which prevent their citizens from taking part in national or regional elections as soon as they leave their home country.

According to the Commission, such rules negatively affect the EU's free movement rights and go against the founding premise of European citizenship which is meant to give citizens additional rights, not fewer.

An EU citizenship secures the rights to vote and stand as a candidate in local and European Parliament elections in their EU country of residence, but this right does not extend to national or regional elections, for example in the 13 member states where regions are vested with legislative power.

To tackle the problem, the Commission is inviting member states to enable their citizens abroad to retain their right to vote in national elections if they demonstrate a continuing interest in the political life of their country, for example by applying (preferably electronically) to remain on the electoral roll.

Such rules exist for example in Austria, which requires overseas citizens to periodically renew their registration on the electoral roll. In Germany, citizens are required to be affected by national politics and be familiar with it.

"Practices such as these have in fact created a second-class group of EU citizens," Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding said at a press conference on Wednesday (29 January), mentioning that the journalists present should know about the issue as many of them are expats.

Reding added that today, citizens who move abroad can easily maintain the links to their home country.

"They follow the current affairs in their home country, they are interested in what's happening there and follow on TV, radio and on the Internet. They can travel home very easily and very often they pay taxes or draw their pension in their country of origin," Reding continued.

Growing support

The justice commissioner also highlighted that in a recent Eurobarometer on electoral rights, two thirds of respondents thought it was unfair to lose their right to vote in their country of origin simply because they reside in another EU country.

Rules for voting rights vary considerably in the five member states, the Commission pointed out.

For example, in the UK citizens are disenfranchised if they have not been registered to vote at an address in the UK in the previous 15 years. In Cyprus, citizens are disenfranchised if they have not resided in Cyprus during the six months immediately preceding national elections.

Meanwhile, Danish citizens are only allowed to remain on the electoral roll if they register their intention to return to Denmark within two years. While the rules will be particularly difficult to change in this country, as they are written down in the national constitution, Reding said she had received a "constructive response" from Danish authorities.

In a recent opinion article, British liberal MEP Rebecca Taylor also raised the issue of voting rights for EU expats. "It seems rather excessive that exercising your democratic rights requires you to apply for citizenship of the country you live in, despite the fact that your legal status as an EU citizen means you have the same rights and obligations as citizens of that country," Taylor wrote.


22-25 May 2014: European Parliament elections.

External links: 


Ben's picture

If you are an American citizen who migrates from New York to California, then you exercise your right to vote in California (where you live, pay taxes and use services), not in New York. The same principle should apply to European citizens who migrate from one Member State to another one. They should be allowed to vote in the country where they live, pay taxes and use services, without having to change their nationality.

HD's picture

Ben, you can't compare the system with the USA. The issue in the EU is that a French citizen moving anywhere in the world would always be allowed to vote in France for all types of elections. He would also be allowed to vote from a Consulate for European and national elections. If he lives in the EU (in Poland for eg.), he can decide to vote for Polish MEPs (an than has no right to vote for French MEPs) or for French MEPs. Residents in another EU Member State also have a right to vote at local elections. Howerver, a British citizen living in another Member States would loose his right to vote for UK regional & legislative elections after a certain time. His voting powers are then limited to local and European elections in the place he lives !

Iwantout's picture

In the case of UK nationals they have to be resident outside the UK for 15 years before they lose their right to vote in national elections. This right is of course reinstated once they become resident in the UK again.

Given that that means that for 15 years they have not paid taxes in the UK I do not really understand why they should expect a vote at the national level which allows them to select representatives who will pass laws and impose additional taxes etc. that will not affect them given that they live in Spain, France, Poland etc.

In the final analysis they are making the decision to live elsewhere and it is one they are perfectly entitled to make, but one of the consequences is after 15 years they lose the franchise in the UK. As this loss of the national vote is not exactly a secret it is presumably one of the factors these people consider before making their decision.

A compromise might be to adopt something akin to what I believe the French offer. Ex pats vote for a number of MPs who only represent ex pats. I would suggest that in a UK model these MPs would then only be able to vote on issues that affect their constituents directly, e.g. the UK relationship with the EU but not matters impacting on national criminal law, education, health etc.

An alternative might be that after a period of time (5yrs+ perhaps) nationals who live in other EU states loses their right to vote in their own national elections but gain them in the new country. To amend a political quote “no representation without taxation.”

LF's picture

Iwantout, finding a solution to this is important. People fought and died for the vote, and it's not acceptable that in the 21st century - in countries that call themselves democracies - certain people are not allowed to vote because of where they live. It's not enough to say 'it's their choice' - it's the principle that counts here.

I happen to think expats should have a choice of which country they wish to vote in after 10 years of living abroad. I'm a UK expat by the way and follow UK politics very closely and am a member of political party there.

Iwantout's picture


I agree a solution is important. I offered two possible options in my comment.

You seem to prefer one of my possible suggestions, i.e. transfer of the right to vote after 10 years, I suggested five, either way the principle is established. The only point we might disagree on is whether the ex pat should have a right to retain their vote in their home country rather than the automatic transfer to their adopted home. I would suggest that after 5 / 10 years living elsewhere then the vote should be moved regardless of their wishes. (After 5 / 10 years not paying into their home country why should they be represented after all.) They could of course always move back to their home country at any time they wished and regain the vote.

Democracy is about representation where you live and where you are affected by the decisions of those representatives, not representation where you want it to be because you used to be resident there.

I accept that there is a debate to be had re who should vote in certain cases e.g. a referendum on UK membership terms with the EU but that is entirely different from national representation.