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.

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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.

Barry Davies's picture

Let's be honest if you choose to go and live in another country, and your knowledge of what is the current situation in the nation you deserted you should not have a vote because a, it won't effect you, and b, your understanding will be diminished. There is no such thing as a european citizen so what is this unelected failed politician waffling on about?

LF's picture

Sorry Barry,

This has nothing to do with the UK national obsession. You should read up on how Commissioners are chosen. Are Whitehall civil servants elected, or even your local policy officer at the council? Thought not.

In any case, this discussion is about the right to vote for citizens living within some kind of a political and economic union, with human rights enshrined by various conventions. You've made it quite clear that the loss of the right to vote has implications on freedom of movement, so it is something the EU should look at.

Like it or not, the UK signed itself up to internationally agreed treaties in the past. Many years of economic mismanagement, a failed two-party centralised political system, and the blaming of its inadequacies on 'Europe', have led it to the situation it finds itself in now.

If the UK leaves the UN, the EU, the ECHR and every other body it threatens to leave then some of us expats may decide to apply for different citizenship. Others may be forced to move back home. To be honest, those I know, mostly educated people who pay their taxes, will probably not want to return.

It's amusing that the loss of investment in working-age people will probably have to be filled by immigrants from elsewhere, while retired expats could be forced back home to be dealt with by the UK's NHS. But hell, people get what they vote for - and in turn their opinions are formed by a small coterie of billionaire publisher... foreigners. Oh the irony.

Barry Davies's picture

What on earth has whitehall civil servants got to do with giving jobs to failed politicians?

The UK has signed itself up to nothing, a single politician who did a bunk right afterwards signed us up to it without a mandate because he had promised a referendum then didn't hold it.

The UK has not threatened to leave the UN it has threatened to leave the echr because of the foreign judges saying we could not deport a terrorist who was a danger to our nation. So far although there is a majority of the British public who want to leave the eussr we haven't been given the opportunity to say we are leaving, so I don't understand your point.

You are quite welcome to apply for citizenship of another country if you so wish, we don't need to be in the eussr for you to do that. The nhs already pays for your treatment abroad so there would be no difference.

HD's picture

Iwantout, living in another country doesn't mean that you cannot follow politics in your home country, even after 15 years or more! Yes French citizens can now vote abroad for specific MPs for expaxts but they can also decide to vote for MPs in the constituency where they are still electoraly registered in France. Moreover, living abroad - even for 15 years - doesn't mean that you would lever come back home...
By the way, the French system is now better than it was 5 years ago when French citizens living outside the EU had no right to vote for European elections! However, having 2 MEPs representing expacts as it was proposed at the time by 2 French MPs would have certainly been better than forcing French expats to vote for candidates in Paris constituency... And another to reaffirm centralisation and "parisianism" in France...

Richard's picture

Iwantout is right - it cannot be correct that someone who has not lived in the UK for more than 15 years still gets to help decide who runs the UK. This means they are free to vote for someone safe in the knowledge that for the most part they will be completely unaffected by the government they are helping to put into power. In essence an expat can vote in favour of, for example, a government that wants to raise taxes they won;t have to pay, passes laws which won't affect them, changes to a health service they don't use and so on.

The way to address this problem is to simply enshrine a vote to right in the national elections of the member state in which one is normally resident.

It is my view that if you no longer live in a shared house, you no longer have any say in how that house shall be run. You do not get to help choose rules you do not have to live by.

The UK's 15 year rule is, in my view, remarkably generous and should be reduced to five years.

By the way, I wonder if Commissioner Reding will be advising the Scottish Government that Scottish citizens resident outside of Scotland should be allowed to vote in the forthcoming independence referendum?

It is quite correct that Whitehall civil servants are not elected. They also have no power to initiate legislation - in the EU the unelected Commission has that right exclusively.

LF's picture

Barry Davies - hah the EUSSR! Sounds funny, but where are the gulags and deathcamps? And funny that there are elections in the EU - using a more proportional system than in the UK! I guess the Commission is the Politburo - but hey, how come there is also a parliament, and a council that can block decisions? Your analogy is so inane that it pains me to write anything more than this. Save it for the rest of the brainwashed - it's good for a laugh!

LF's picture

Richard - What you suggest is fair; I understand your point about having a say in issues that don't affect daily life. But the principle of not being disenfranchised is paramount - and this therefore requires concerted member state co-operation on the issue. It's therefore quite correct that the Commission is looking for the issue to be tackled.

Barry Davies's picture

Richard redding has already said that Scottish expats should have a vote on independence. So LF you think that all the ussr stood for was gulags, nothing else ever happened there then.

The commission is a bunch of unelected political failures why on earth should they have a say on anything especially anything remotely to do with democracy when they are clearly not democratically elected.

George Mc's picture

The logic expressed by Iwantout and Richard is so starkly obvious. Is this really all this Commissioner can come up with. Surely there must be some big ticket stuff that needs her attention which will be supported by member states.

Picture MEP's, MP's and local Councillors trawling the bars of Marbella plying the expats with Sangria before elections (another gallon of that stuff and I'll vote for you all!)

Lenox's picture

I left the UK when I was 13 and have lived in Spain ever since. I was able to vote for the first time in my life when I was 46 (Spanish local elections) in 1999. I can vote in European Elections, choosing between the different Spanish candidatures (none of whom are interested in the 4 million 'foreigners' in Spain). I can't vote in the UK (nor, barring this possible referendum which would affect my status in Europe) would I want to. Give us the vote for the country we live in!

an european's picture

Why not ! It's simple & logic to understand!
Have only an single European identity and there will be no issues anymore ! Vote wherever you are in the E.U. no matter which nationality you have as long you live in that state to vote!
Illogically you cannot vote for a state outside from where you live !
Why so complicated when things can be so easy so easy!

Barry Davies's picture

Because foreigners shouldn't be voting in a foreign country.

an european's picture

@ Barry
An EU-citizens livin' in that state to vote isn't anymore a foreigner!
But if not i fear there's unfortunately more than an ethical national issues.

Maybe a new law of the non-respecting of e.u. citizens (aka: unethically called "foreigners" would end immediately the free trade as well to be part of the E.U.
Only those who thinks solidarity to unite will be strong as well in mind!
The others weak ethically mindless!

El Pluribus Unum

Barry Davies's picture

If you are not a British citizen you should have no say in British politics, I wouldn't expect to vote for the french president, foreigners should not be allowed to vote in the country they are living in at that time.

There is no such thing as a european citizen because there is no nation called europe. Anyone who thinks there is is a fool.

an european 's picture

Oh no Barry ! But i am an European and proud to be one and love the Union something only Americans understand this!
But if you're disgusted about ethical differences then I'm sorry for you because this is what your anti-European Union explanation's offer!

God praise the European Union !

Barry Davies's picture

In that case you need to consider going to see a Psychiatrist because clearly you have delusions, the eussr will not ever become the equivalent of the United States of America, because there is a complete difference in the culture of the US and the Cultures of the previously free nations of the eussr, the experience of some of the people ensconced in this hugely over governed area may be positive i.e. the political class, and criminals, and the 600,000 foreigners ripping off my nation for unemployment benefits that are greater than in their own countries,, but the experience for most is negative.

The sooner it collapses the better for all.

George Mc's picture

"But i am an European and proud to be one and love the Union something only Americans understand this!"

an european keeps banging on about the USA. Why does she do this when there is absolutely no comparison that can be put forward by anyone with any sense.

In fact, let us put it another way, can anyone point where in the world there is another example that could be compared to the EU. Or as I suspect is it the only 'buggers muddle' so therefore no comparisons are available.

an european's picture


"the Cultures of the previously free nations of the eussr"
Free??!NO! YOU are banning the freedom of the rights and the human dignity!

By the way if you can understand that Europe was indeed a Country with territories on it during the Empire in which citizens haven't fight each other during 300 years even not to mention all the wars after the fallen of it!
Even if you want to ignore the European colonial period!

No Barry you're worsens and thus you should be treated in an institution for disabled because you have an very high lack Codes of Ethics which has nothing more to do with politics !
That's your wish if you consider to be British but i am an european even if you think there is no such thing as as european citizen the that's your problem!

As British as you 're you can smell because your UKSSR will be dismantled when Scotland leaves your your house of lord ! There will be no such things anymore than England soon!
The sooner UKSSR collapses the better for all!

At least the Eurozone will remain strong and it seems it enlarges to 19 !

Richard's picture

The only times Europe has been united as a single country (though never all of Europe) has been by military conquest. The peopl eof the Empire thought it was so great most of them couldn't wait for independence.

If you want a united Europe why do you want the United Kingdom to end? That was formed by two countries who voluntarily merged into one larger one for the same reasons, that is to unite the lands in peace and prosperity? (It certainly wasn;t England conquering Scotland)

Why do you dislike the house of lords so much? It is an advisory body, it has less powers than the *unelected* European Commission. Perhaps you are simply ignorant at how the UK Parliament functions.

I always have a good laugh when they point at the Uk being such a bad example. When did the UK last have a civil war? When did we last have a military dictatorship? The UK has been a stable democracy for a LOT longer than most of it;s European neighbours...

The eurozone isn;t strong, it is 18 diveregent countries joined in a shared currency, which is why it is a dysfunctional mess.

Barry Davies's picture

wrongly named an european, I am indeed disabled, but why should that mean I have to go to a home or am unable to make cogent replies?

There has been human rights and dignity in the UK for a long time before the corruption ridden democratically deficient eussr reduced our human rights, and dignity.

There has never been a 300 year period when the continent of europe was free from war. The nearest thing to what you describe as the european colonial period was an empire run from Rome, and was not at all settled.

I do indeed have a high level of ethics, you seem to have unduly added a word that doesn't fit.

I can smell, usually if I eat foreign food full of garlic and suchlike. Should Scotland secede it will leave the houses of parliament as it would have no say there, and incidentally have the advantage of no longer being in the eussr, losing 5-6 million souls from the remainder of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will not make England Collapse, if anything it will be economically stronger because of not having to subsidise Scotland any more.

The eurozone will always be unstable, unless Germany subsidises all the other nations, and who is agitating to be number 19 other than Turkey who will have no choice other than to join it if it ever joins the eussr.

Your mindless unsubstantiated rantings are the sort of level of misunderstanding we have come to expect from europhiles lead by the propaganda from brussells unelected failed politicians.

an european's picture

- "corruption ridden democratically deficient eussr"

are you talking in facts of the London's Barkley Banks in which now the E.U. is fighting against tax-evading and corrupted bad banks !! And you're trying saying me that the E.U. is corrupt !???

"The eurozone will always be unstable, unless Germany subsidises all the other nations, and who is agitating to be number 19"

Partially I agree with you!
Of course this is why we need some federal policies
(best with a common depth interests pool)! But every Euro zones committed it already on 2012 to tackle the issue!
I don't want a german dominated Europe but an equally united one

Since the Euro is a stable federal coin but the fact of having implement it without these federal policies to (compensate the macroeconomic imbalances) was however a mistake ! Not to mention the undermining
of the federalists in the 80 era.
It's not about Brussels failed politicians but see national Greece's (Not only) corrupted politicians/Banks U.S. Lehman and housing Bubble collapse who lead the whole Union onto an moron economic state

an european's picture

- "corruption ridden democratically deficient eussr"

are you talking in facts of the London's Barkley Banks in which now the E.U. is fighting against tax-evading and corrupted bad banks !! And you're trying saying me that the E.U. is corrupt !???

"The eurozone will always be unstable, unless Germany subsidises all the other nations, and who is agitating to be number 19"

Partially I agree with you!
Of course this is why we need some federal policies
(best with a common depth interests pool)! But every Euro zones committed it already on 2012 to tackle the issue!
I don't want a german dominated Europe but an equally united one

Since the Euro is a stable federal coin but the fact of having implement it without these federal policies to (compensate the macroeconomic imbalances) was however a mistake ! Not to mention the undermining
of the federalists in the 80 era.
It's not about Brussels failed politicians but see national Greece's (Not only) corrupted politicians/Banks U.S. Lehman and housing Bubble collapse who lead the whole Union onto an moron economic state

Richard's picture

It will not happen. You see, the euro was always a "trojan horse" that was meant to force federalism. Federalists were quite aware that the peoples of Europe would never agree via the ballot box - in fact the rejection of the Constitution in France and Ireland (and certainly other countries, had their governments dare allow them to vote) - proves this. The fact that we got the Constitution dressed up as the Lisbon Treaty - a Treaty because that avoided those awkward referenda - is equal proof that those in favour of "the Project" will achieve their ends by any means.

Thus, faced with a reluctant electorate they cooked up the euro. Dressed up as an economic measure (as per the Monnet Method) it was never about economics. The creators were quite aware of the massive flaws - you can't have a workable single currency without, effectively, a single state to run it. They knew that the euro would invariably lead to a crisis, at which point they could force the creation of that single state because they could tell the voters that that the alternative was even worse. Again, the ends justify the means. That the crisis involves misery for tens of millions across the Continent means nothing: "the Project" is all.

They have, however, underestimated the voters. The Germans might like using Europe as a proxy to impose their economic ethos on everyone else - but will reject any idea of a "federal tax" that is used in the way it is used in the USA (where taxpayers in rich states subsidise those in poor ones - an almost permanent situation for some poor states). What they call the "dreaded transfer unioin". On the other hand, the French quite like the idea of Europe being subsidised by Germany in the form of eurobonds, but reject any concept of the Commission telling them how to arrange their national budget.

The USA works because they all see themselves as fellow Americans.

The vast majority in the EU see themselves as French, German, Greek, Dutch etc first and EUropean second (if at all, many have no such identity)

The euro is only "stable" because of the existance of Germany, which is large, strong and extremely stable. The euro is effectively the deutschemark. But it makes little economic sense (except to Germany, which benefits from it enormously). At least two currencies would make far more sense, Germany and her satellites with one, and a Latin block headed by France for another. But that is politically unworkable, for one thing France would regard it as being placed in the second league.

an european's picture

Hi Richard - Posted on : 04/02/2014

The Euro isn't still stable enough yet !
Again 1 Lehman collapse then it's done for the economy !

And yes ! The ECB it has began and is going federal!Nor you or won't change anything because some rules of the single economy and free trade have to be respected !
Surely it won't be a strong centralized federalization like u.s. but it will act like a light "confederation" (if) since the most part of internal politics are on member-states level! (Not regulations)

-"it will not happen. You see, the euro was not a "trojan horse" and never meant to force federalism!"

The Euro was implemented as a SYMBOL of FREEDOM!

In fact we could have less regulations (ex. WC flush regulations) but a stronger economy and jobless drop is a must!

Barry Davies's picture

The euro will never be stable, and has been the major restriction even ahead of the overbearing lowest common denominator edicts that have prevented the region from receiving like the rest of the world has.

The ECB is not supposed to be political so how can it be going federal?

The euro was never a symbol of freedom, it is the symbol of a corruption ridden democratically deficient top down bureaucracy, freedom is far from the truth with that body.

an european's picture

Don't you never heard about the federal Supervision' of corrupted Banks ?!
Oh Barry come on!

You really don't know what happen and disgracefully threaten the E.U. as corrupt?!??
I suggest you read member-states commitment *.pdf from commission .. if you can read !

El Pluribus Unum

Barry Davies's picture

The federal supervision of corrupt banks, what are you rambling on about now I have never heard of an American corrupt bank supervisor.

I don't threaten the eussr with anything I state a well documented fact that the eussr is corrupt.

I wouldn't believe anything from the unelected self serving commission propaganda, because I can read and have seen the bilge that spews out of them in their attempt to usurp power from the elected governments.