The European Parliamentary Elections 2024: all EU citizens are equal, but some are more equal than others

Between 6-9 June 2024, nationals of 27 member states are voting in the European Parliamentary elections. These are the first European elections to be held since Brexit: I had the privilege of standing in the South East of England in 2019.

Millions of EU citizens living in the UK are  eligible to vote  in these elections, and many, like myself, will be casting their votes using postal votes, proxy votes, voting in person in  embassies/consulates, and/or e-voting – the available method(s) depending on their member state’s arrangements. In contradistinction, Italians would need to travel back to Italy to vote, despite being able to vote from abroad for national elections, generating justifiable anger.

Worse still, in five EU member states, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Denmark, and Bulgaria, national legislation prescribes that most of their citizens residing in a ‘third country’, which the UK now is, are legally disenfranchised. These countries tend to follow the pattern they adopt for their national elections. Of the four nations of the UK, this legal reality is particularly challenging for Northern Ireland, given that, pursuant to the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, anyone born in NI may choose to be Irish, British, or both; hundreds of thousands of residents of Northern Ireland hold Irish citizenship.

Prior to the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement, I highlighted the ramifications of this scenario. In my role as Chair of the charity ‘New Europeans UK’, we have recently held at Stormont, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, an event entitled ‘EU citizens – rights and wrongs’, which explored the effects of Brexit on voting rights of EU citizens in these European Parliament Elections. The event was co-sponsored by members of several NI political parties, and featured alongside civil society activists a representative of the Irish republic.

The legal reality in which your eligibility to vote as an EU citizen for the European Parliament is contingent on your member state’s preferences erodes the political equality of EU citizens as individual EU citizens, irrespective of their member state. This is a particularly painful reality for those EU citizens who have come to the UK before Brexit, when it was still an EU member state – to coin a phrase, they have not left the EU; rather, the EU has left them.

 

* Dr. Ruvi Ziegler is Associate Professor in International Refugee Law at the University of Reading. He is an Advisory Council member of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary.

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10 Comments

  • Martin Gray 6th Jun '24 - 9:11pm

    If they felt that passionately about voting in the EU elections – they’d travel back to their home country . Let’s be honest , election turnouts in the EU have been woeful – the UK was no exception to that having 26% being one of the lowest … Slovakia holds the bottom spaces with 15/16% ….Frankly, the EU just isn’t that popular as we like to think ..

  • There are many reasons why someone might not be able to return to their home country to cast their vote.

    The one and only time I haven’t voted was the 2004 European elections. I was in Australia for a year, so applied for a postal vote. The ballot papers were sent all the way from the UK out to a remote town in Australia… with the return envelope clearly marked that it would only be accepted if posted back from an EU country. I’m committed to democracy, but not enough to fly halfway across the world to return a *postal* vote.

  • I sympathise with those EU citizens who wish to vote but are unable to because of the way electoral law in their various countries is framed. Personally I’d prefer to try to get some international agreements by which citizens of one country permanently resident in a different country can choose which ONE of those countries (not both) they regard as their permanent home and wish to vote in. But that’s a long way away.

    In the meantime, voting rights is surely a matter for the countries concerned. This article seems to have a subtext of trying to blame Brexit for some EU citizens not being able to vote. But determining whether – for example, a citizen of Malta living outside the EU should be able to vote in elections in Malta is really none of the UK Government’s business. Whatever the reasons and arguments for and against Brexit, internal electoral law within other EU countries is not something that the UK needed to or had any reason to concern itself with when making decisions about Brexit. If Ruvi and others want to campaign for Governments of EU countries to modify their electoral laws to allow overseas citizens to vote, then I wish them good luck – that seems a worthy cause. But I can’t agree with using it as an excuse to bash Brexit.

  • Mark Frankel 7th Jun '24 - 8:49am

    The sad reminder of how we in the UK have been deprived of our rights as EU citizens.

  • Martin Gray 7th Jun '24 - 9:25am

    @Mark…& John C…Going back to ones country every 5 years is not that difficult – if you’re passionate enough about the EU elections ..
    Obviously the stats around turnouts makes one cynical about existing voters residing in their home country – but not enthused enough to vote once every 5 years …. Turnouts have historically been woeful…

  • Peter Martin 7th Jun '24 - 10:15am

    “The legal reality in which your eligibility to vote as an EU citizen for the European Parliament is contingent on your member state’s preferences erodes the political equality of EU citizens as individual EU citizens….”

    It is always going to be this way if the EU allows its member states a degree of autonomy. Member states will all have their own differing rules according to what they consider to be fair and reasonable. On the other hand the EU can ensure a legal uniformity if it moves to becoming one country. These will then be decided by what the EU central government decides is fair and reasonable.

    We are always assured by those who are pro the EU that any talk of a single country, the United States of Europe or whatever name is chosen, is scaremongering nonsense. Therefore the diverse system the EU currently has must be consider the ideal.

    Incidentally, it looks like the UK has relatively liberal nationality and voting laws compared to our continental neighbours. There’s no reason why they couldn’t offer their own citizens EU voting rights whilst they were resident in the UK. Ireland could offer voting rights to all Northern Ireland residents. That is entirely a matter for them, of course.

  • Can anyone explain why Ed Davey thinks missing tonight’s prime time BBC debate 7.30 – 9.00 PM and sending Daisy Cooper, is remotely sensible? The Lib Dems barely get any publicity and thus the leader should grab at this opportunity to raise the party’s profile.

    In 2017’s GE campaign, Corbyn attended the equivalent and Theresa May sent Amber Rud. Corbyn and the other leaders chided Rudd over May’s absence and Corbyn received a huge poll boost. Tonight Farage will have the nation to himself?

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Jun '24 - 11:30am

    @Andy
    Perhaps to show the party isn’t a one-person band?

  • Andy, it is primarily a Deputy Leader’s debate, Farage is the outliner. In any case I have an inkling Daisy Cooper is a better campaigner and could have led the campaign

  • Dr Ruvi Ziegler 7th Jun '24 - 2:12pm

    Thanks for your comments.
    There is a distinction to be drawn between eligibility to vote for non-resident citizens and arrangements for doing so. Re the former, the UK used to apply a residence bar for national elections (5, then 20, then 15) which has now been removed. Once removed, it is unreasonable to demand that people spend significant financial and time resources to be exercise their democratic rights when the means for enabling this to be done otherwise exist and work – as the Italian example (re their national elections) demonstrates.
    The deeper question that was raised concerned member state autonomy and the resulting divergence: this is not about the EU setting criteria for the member states’ own elections, but for elections to a unicameral EU parliament – where representatives do not represent states but citizens, whichever member state nationality they hold in addition to their EU citizenship. That is why citizens can choose whether to vote in their member state of residence or citizenship – the citizen is at the centre, not the member state.
    The point about Brexit was not intended as a backdoor attempt to reverse it (though I believe it is party policy to ultimately rejoin) but to illustrate one of the (un)intended consequences of the UK’s departure. It is not in the UK’s gift to enfranchise Irish, Cypriot, Maltese, Danish, or Bulgarian nationals living in the UK in EU elections but the problem would not have arisen had the UK remained a member state.

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