Foreigners’ right to vote: Let’s start with the Europeans!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

EU citizens who reside in another EU member state should be allowed to participate in general elections just like the nationals of that country, writes Philippe Cayla, president of Euronews.

Philippe Cayla is the chairman of Euronews

"In the current debate about foreigners’ rights to vote, the possibility has been raised of giving the same rights to residents who are not EU citizens as to those who are EU citizens, at least for local elections (European Union citizens also have the right to vote in European elections).

Even if the rights of EU and non-EU citizens are governed by a different rationale, the fact that increasing the rights of non-EU citizens, but not those of EU-citizens is on the cards, is an eloquent indication of the lack of reflection about Europe. Europeans’ rights derive from EU citizenship as defined by the Maastricht Treaty. Every citizen of an EU country is also an EU citizen. As such, he has certain rights when living or travelling outside the country of which he is a national: for instance the right to vote in local and European elections when residing in an EU country, the right to be represented by the consular services of any EU country when travelling overseas.

The 2008 Lamassoure report listed the numerous obstacles which hinder full exercise of European citizenship. In a decision dated 27 October 27 2010, the Commission adopted 25 measures, mostly practical ones, in order to improve the value of this elusive citizenship. This does not alter the fact that at a time when questions have been raised regarding Europe’s identity and the evanescent European, it is time to give European citizenship its full meaning and its full value.

In the same way as, in the Roman Empire, to be a Roman citizen was an honour which gave greater rights than those of each of the individual identities of the Empire, European citizens should be given the fundamental right to be national citizens of any EU country in which they reside.

This ‘residential’ citizenship would grant the same rights as the local nationality, without the need to acquire it: Europeans whose case this is would thus keep their original nationality. They could take part in national elections in the country in which they reside and could stand for election. Any European residing in France could become a deputy, a senator or even the president of the Republic, although the probability of such a thing happening is almost non-existent. It would be an honour for France to ensure that all EU citizens residing in France have the right to vote in national elections. The European Parliament should act accordingly. A way of acquiring this right could be to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)."

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