EU elections: Italians largest group of EU citizens unable to vote from the UK 

The vast majority of Italians living in the UK will not be able to participate in the European Parliament election this June as they will have to travel back to Italy to cast their vote. 

The European elections take place across EU member states between 6 and 9 June – in Italy on 8 and 9 June.

Voting rules are set in national law and are different in each country. Unlike most other EU member states, when it comes to the European elections Italy allows citizens abroad to vote from the place of residence only if they live in other EU member state. Postal or proxy vote is not contemplated.

This means that after Brexit the over half a million Italians in the UK will be able to participate in the European elections only if they travel to Italy on voting days.

It is the first time this situation occurs. Until 2019, when the United Kingdom was still an EU member, EU citizens in the UK could choose to vote for a candidate in their home country or a British one. Brexit has now removed both options.

Largest community abroad

According to a European Parliament factsheet, only Cyprus, Czechia, Malta and Slovakia have similar rules. Ireland does not allow residents abroad to vote at all. Bulgaria was in a similar position to Ireland, but following a decision made on 12 April, polling stations will be established in London and Edinburgh, according to a note published by the Bulgarian Embassy.

Italy is the biggest EU country – and the only EU founding member – requiring citizens in the UK to travel back to Italy to be able to vote.

Italians will elect 76 of the 720 members of parliament, the third largest contingent by country. Italians are also one of the largest communities of EU citizens in the UK, and one of the largest outside national borders.

Changing the law

Attempts in the past months to change the electoral law to allow Italian nationals to vote from the UK have failed. 

Elena Remigi, a member of the General Council of Italians Abroad (CGIE), a body advising the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that since September letters were sent to the Minister of Interior to seek a solution.

MP representing Italians abroad Toni Ricciardi and Senator Andrea Crisanti, from the opposition Democratic Party, proposed changes to the law that would have allowed Italians in the UK and Switzerland to vote from the place of residence, but this was not supported by the government. 

The government justified the decision with the low turnout in previous elections and organisational difficulties. Italians should receive in the coming weeks a polling card from their town in Italy detailing the modalities of the vote.

“For Italian citizens who found themselves outside of the EU without having a say in the referendum, the vote in the European elections would have meant being able to continue contributing to the democratic life of our European continent, whose challenges are increasingly complex,” Elena Remigi said. 

Dimitri Scarlato, member of the Committee of Italians abroad (Comites) in London and former EU advocacy lead at citizens’ right group the3million, added: “Many Italians saw their right to vote in the European elections taken away because of Brexit, despite their strong sense of belonging to the European project… It is important to remember how active Italian citizens have been during and after Brexit and voting in the European elections from the UK would only strengthen that feeling of being European citizens.”

Francesco Ragni, director of news site Londra Italia, wrote: “It is a controversial choice, which does not take into consideration a series of elements” including that the UK is “still in Europe” and that after Brexit “Italians in the UK have more than ever the need to feel connected with the European institutions”. 

The Good Lobby, a non-profit organisation promoting democratic participation and civil rights, has launched a petition calling on the Italian government to “immediately” extend the right to vote remotely to the over one million Italians living in the United Kingdom and Switzerland “as a first step” towards granting the same right to all Italians around the world.

Claudia Delpero © Europe Street News

This article was published on 5 May 2024 and was updated on 12 May 2024 with information about Bulgaria and the petition about voting rights in Italy. Photo by Hongbin on Unsplash

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