EU elections: vote at risk for hundreds of thousands EU nationals in UK

Hundreds of thousands of EU nationals living in the UK may not be able to vote in the upcoming European parliament election because of Brexit. Unless the UK departure from the EU is delayed, national rules in some EU countries will prevent UK residents from taking part in the vote.

Each EU state defines its electoral procedures and, when it comes to the election of the European parliament, a number of countries do not allow or seriously limit the ability of their nationals to vote from abroad.

Ireland, for example, requires to be enlisted in the register of electors in order to vote. But only Irish and other EU nationals who reside in Ireland can be included in the register, so Irish citizens who live in the UK will not be entitled to vote. Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have similar rules, and Malta applies restrictions too.

Until the past election, in 2014, this was not a major problem because EU nationals in the UK could still vote in a British constituency. All EU citizens living in the European Union should be able to take part in the European parliament election, either in the country of residence or in their own country (where it is allowed), according to EU rules. But with Brexit, the UK will no longer be an EU member, so EU residents who cannot vote from abroad will be left without any option.

Other EU countries – Bulgaria, Greece and Italy – allow voting from abroad in EU elections only to residents in another EU member state. Otherwise, people have to return to their country to cast the ballot. Now Italy and Greece are putting in place alternative plans, but the practicalities of the vote may still put the electoral rights of these citizens at risk.

Italy is preparing the vote as if the UK were to remain a member of the EU. “At the moment it is not possible to establish whether Italian electors in the United Kingdom will be able to vote at polling stations organised by the Consulate General in London and Edinburgh,” Consul Marco Villani told Europe Street. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has started the preliminary procedure to offer this possibility, but the procedure will be stopped in the event of a definitive exit of the UK from the EU before the election date.”

If the election from the UK goes ahead, Italians who are temporarily in the country can also vote from the consulates, but they have to apply by March 7. If the procedure is halted, all Italians in Britain will have to return to Italy to be able to vote.

In February a group of activists launched a petition calling on the President of the Republic and the Italian government to allow the vote from the UK in any event. Responding to parliamentary questions, Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini said that the “government will evaluate the feasibility” of solutions (video). But the situation remains uncertain.

Greek citizens in the UK, instead, will be able to vote from a neighbouring EU country on 25 May 2019. To do so, they have to apply by March 21 on the website of the Ministry of Interior, at the consulate in London or at the Honorary consulates in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Gibraltar, Leeds and Birmingham.

As regards Bulgaria, procedures will be announced at a later stage, an official from the Embassy in London told Europe Street.

Under EU rules, all EU nationals should be able to vote for the European parliament. But studies have shown that, because of differences in the electoral systems, this is not happening. An analysis by the European parliament says that there are still “significant obstacles to the achievement of equality between all EU citizens” in this regard. Now Brexit is adding to the disparity.

All together, EU citizens in Britain that will lose or will see their right to vote in EU elections curtailed make a population of over 900,000 (based on 2017 Eurostat data). This is likely to be a low figure, as many countries estimate that the number of their citizens in Britain is much larger than official statistics.

European parliament elections take place every 5 years. The next one will be between 23 and 26 May 2019, with the precise day set by each member state. It will be “one of the biggest democratic exercises anywhere in the world,” says European parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch Guillot. In total, 373 million citizens from 27 countries will elect 705 members of the European Parliament, fewer than the current 751 due to the departure of the UK.

For the first time since the first direct parliament election in 1979, British citizens will not participate in the vote. That is, unless Brexit is delayed beyond May.  

Electoral rules country by country are available here.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo: Michel Christen, © European Union 2019, Source: EP.

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