Since 1993, with the Treaty of Maastricht, the rights to vote and candidate in local and European Parliament elections are granted to European Citizens. Despite this great achievement for European Citizenship and equal democratic participation, the registration procedures in the EU Member States are still very different ( see the article XX) and it complicates the access to these rights. But, more importantly, there are two issues that are not resolved at all. First of all, third-countries nationals have no rights recognised by the Member States and thus by the European Union to vote and candidate in elections. Moreover, European citizens are only entitled to vote in local and European Parliament elections, what about the other elections?
To tackle these issues, many initiatives were or are led. All over the European Union, citizens and politicians are trying to improve voting rights, let us have a look at these diverse proposals and campaigns.
There are three different types of initiatives that we could separate. The first one being the referendum and petitions (A), the second popular campaigns (B) and the third European Citizens’ Initiatives (C).
A- The referendum and petitions in favour of the electoral rights
Luxembourg has approximately 50% of non-citizens residents in its population. This is why the question of giving them electoral rights is ubiquitous in the national discussion. Sovereignty is very important in Luxembourg, but there were still campaigns to try to implement these reforms. In 2015, a constitutional referendum asked Luxembourgers if they were in favour of:
1 -lowering the voting age from eighteen to sixteen years of age
2- the extension of the right to vote to foreigners residing in the country
3- the limitation to a maximum of ten years of occupancy of a government post by the same person.
The referendum was rejected by 78% of the voters.
5 years later, in 2020, an official petition was launched (petition 1481), calling for full political rights for EU citizens only, and collected 212 signatures.
In Belgium, regional elections are very important. This is why a petition was launched to give all Brussels’ residents the right to vote in regional. Brussels being the centre of the European Union, a lot of foreigners are living there. The #1Bru1Vote campaign, launched in 2019, was asking for them all to have more political rights and to be able to vote in Brussels’ regional elections on the 26th of May 2019. It, unfortunately, did not succeed.
B- The popular campaigns in favor of the electoral rights
In Austria, a beautiful initiative in favour of voting rights has been led since 2009. Its name is Pass Egal Wahl. The concept is to hold symbolic elections where all Austrian residents can vote whereas they have Austrian nationality or not. The 2019 edition gathered 2.900 persons.
In Germany, where the non-citizens residents community is big, a campaign to give them electoral rights has been ongoing since 2011. Walrecht für Alle is a campaign that initially aims for non-citizens residents of Berlin to be able to vote. Finally, they want to extend electoral rights to all non-citizens residents in Germany. They believe that electoral rights should not be tied to citizenship.
Another campaign has been led in Germany since 2019’s European Parliament elections. Its name is “We vote- I live here I vote here”. The concept is to invite people with immigrants’ background to use their right to vote and, as Pass Geal Wahl is doing in Austria, to organize symbolic elections for those who do not have the right to vote.
In the United Kingdom, after Brexit, 3 million of European citizens living there were deprived of the electoral rights they had before. For the #LetUsVote campaign, led by The 3 million, these rights should have been maintained. This campaign exists since the referendum was held in 2016. Unfortunately, despite the promises that the “Leave” campaign made, the European citizens were indeed deprived of these rights in January 2020.
In Malta, in 2018, Equality minister Helena Dalli tried to give electoral rights to third countries nationals in local elections but this request was unfortunately turned down by the Prime minister.
In Southern Italy a symbolic election was held in Bari, in 2019. It gave non-citizens residents a symbolic right to vote, as in Austria and Germany. This initiative was led by CGIL, Arci and Caps.
In France, a campaign was led by the “J’y suis j’y vote” group. This group gathers many organisations, such as La ligue des droits de l’Homme. For example, during the 2019 municipal elections in France, they planned symbolic elections, as the other did but also to do voting where they asked people to give their opinion on giving the right to vote to non-citizens residents.
In Spain, a campaign called Votar es un derecho was launched in 2019 to ask for electoral rights for all migrants. The concept was to give migrants a right to vote by way of “using” the vote of abstentionists.
People who didn’t feel represented or didn’t want to vote for other reasons, could instead accompain and cast their vote for the people with no voting rights. This way, non-citizens residents had a say in the elections.
C- European Citizens’ Initiatives in favour of electoral rights
In 2013 a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) called Let Me Vote was led by Philippe Cayla, from France. This ECI was calling for extension of the electoral rights already given to European citizens. It aims to give them full political rights. Unfortunately, it did not gather the necessary one million signatures.
In 2020, a pretty similar ECI was launched by ECIT Foundation. Its name is Voters Without Borders and it demands the same things as Let Me Vote, adding a reinforcement of the already existing rights and a call for more research when it comes to mobile EU citizens. This campaign is still ongoing.