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Evaluation of the European Parliament Elections (2004)
The European Commission takes stock of the European elections of 10 to 13 June 2004. It evaluates the application of Directive 93/109/EC laying down detailed arrangements for the exercise of the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament for citizens of the Union residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals and proposes improvements. Finally, it reports on the latest developments in case-law regarding the European elections in Gibraltar and Aruba.
Communication from the Commission of 12 December 2006 - European elections 2004 - Commission report on the participation of European Union citizens in the Member State of residence (Directive 93/109/EC) and on the electoral arrangements (Decision 76/787/EC, as amended by Decision 2002/772/EC, Euratom) [COM(2006) 790 final - Not published in Official Journal].
This report assesses the application of Directive 93/109/EC laying down detailed arrangements for the exercise of the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament for citizens of the Union residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals. The Commission wishes to draw the attention of the European Parliament and the Council to problems raised by Member States concerning the implementation of the Act. It proposes amendments to the Directive in line with its assessment.
The report is based principally on information provided by Member States in response to a questionnaire sent by the Commission in November 2004. More details on the questionnaire are to be found in a Commission working document [SEC(2006) 1645 final].
Preparing for the 2004 elections in the light of the enlargement
To prepare for the 2004 elections, the European Commission:
- organised two meetings with electoral experts from the Member States. The meetings, held in 2002 and 2003, concerned the implementation of the provisions of the Directive designed to prevent people from voting or standing for election twice (Article 13). The purpose of the meetings was to improve the information exchange system set up between Member States under the same article, which was not functioning well in practice. In December 2006 the Commission therefore proposed amendments to the Directive;
- took measures to ensure the participation of all citizens in the elections in the enlarged Union. The elections were held shortly after the accession of ten new Member States. Back in April 2003 the Commission had issued a communication on measures to be taken in Member States to ensure participation of all citizens of the Union in the 2004 elections (PDF ). The communication aimed to speed up the implementation of the relevant acquis and ensure registration of all citizens on the electoral rolls in good time;
- recalled the Council Decision on Cyprus. Council Decision 2004/511/EC of 10 June 2004 stipulates that in the event of the entry into force of a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, extraordinary elections of the new representatives of the people of Cyprus in the European Parliament will be held in the whole of Cyprus for the remainder of the term or any subsequent term. According to Protocol 10 on Cyprus of the Act of Accession of 2003 (PDF, page 25), the acquis communautaire is suspended in the north of the island ("in those areas… in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control"). Elections for the 2004-2009 term were not therefore held in these areas;
- reported on the derogation granted to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In January 2003 the European Commission submitted a report (PDF ) on granting derogation to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Article 14 of the Directive allows a Member State to restrict the right to vote to Community voters who have resided in that Member State for a minimum period, which may not exceed five years. The condition for granting the derogation is that the proportion of EU citizens of voting age who reside there but are not nationals exceeds 20 %. The Commission concludes that the circumstances warranting the granting of the derogation to Luxembourg still existed and there was therefore no need to propose any adjustment;
- requested that the results of the elections are not made public too soon. The European Commission asked Member States not to make the results of their count public before 13 June at 22.00 CET (close of polling in the last Member States). Council Decision 2002/772/EC, Euratom, amending the 1976 Act on election of members of the European Parliament, took effect on 1 April 2004: it stipulates that a Member State may not officially make the results of their count public before close of polling in the other Member States.
Participation in the elections: a worrying decline
Citizens' participation in democratic life is essential, the Commission stresses. It is concerned by the overall fall in turnout for the European elections which continued in 2004. In spite of the large number of voters in the ten new Member States, turnout came to only 45.6 % of voters.
On the basis of the data provided by the Member States, the Commission considers:
- registration on the electoral rolls: the percentage of EU citizens registered on the electoral rolls of their Member State of residence was low for the 2004 European elections. Nevertheless, registration on the electoral rolls has increased compared to the previous elections: 5.9 % in 1994, 9 % in 1999 and 11.9 % in 2004. The increase may result from greater awareness of the rights of EU citizens, the efforts made by the Member States to encourage participation and greater mobility of citizens;
- standing as candidate: few Community citizens stand as candidates in the elections in their Member State of residence of which they are not nationals (57 candidates in the EU in 2004 compared to 62 candidates in 1999). This fall may be attributable to the heavy administrative burden that candidates have to face when submitting an application to stand, and especially the requirement to produce an attestation from the competent authorities of the home Member State certifying that he/she has not been deprived of the right to stand as a candidate. The Commission also criticises the difficulties for EU citizens to join existing national political parties and to found a new party. In practice, candidates are put forward in the majority of cases by political parties. The Commission encourages Member States to offer to non-national resident EU citizens the possibility to become members of political parties under the same conditions as are open to their nationals. The Commission will examine further the compatibility with the Directive of the above-mentioned national legislations.
Informing citizens of their rights remains crucial
Even though citizens are aware of their right to vote and stand as candidate in the European elections, the European Commission is convinced that Member States must specifically inform citizens about how to exercise their electoral rights. The Commission encourages Member States to send personal letters to every non-national EU citizen with relevant information, in as many languages as possible, together with the registration form to be returned to the competent authorities.
Determining the persons entitled to vote and stand as candidate: Gibraltar and Aruba
The Commission report also includes important developments in case-law, especially in respect of the European elections in Gibraltar and Aruba. The Court of Justice of the European Communities (ECJ) rules in favour of the fact that it is for Member States to define the persons entitled to vote and stand as candidate for the European Parliament elections. In this context, they must however respect Community law and, in particular, the principle of equal treatment.
Gibraltar. In 2004, the United Kingdom held European elections in Gibraltar for the first time. Following the judgment "Matthews versus the United Kingdom" (FR), handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on 18 February 1999, the country adopted national legislation enabling the Gibraltar electorate to take part in the European elections. The national law provides for an electoral roll for the European elections in Gibraltar. In addition to the citizens of the European Union, qualifying Commonwealth citizens resident in Gibraltar and at least 18 years of age are eligible to register.
On 18 March 2004, under Case C-145/04, Spain brought proceedings before the ECJ against the United Kingdom for failure to fulfil its obligations. It argues that only EU citizens can have the right conferred upon them to vote in the European Parliament elections.
In its judgment of 12 September 2006 (PDF ), the ECJ ruled that neither the EC Treaty nor the 1976 Act defines expressly and precisely who are to be entitled to the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament. The definition of the persons entitled to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament falls within the competence of each Member State in accordance with Community law. The EC Treaty is not opposed to Member States granting the right to vote and to stand as a candidate to certain persons who have close links to them, other than their own nationals or citizens of the Union resident in their territory.
Gibraltar is a European territory for which one Member State, the United Kingdom, is responsible for external relations and to which the provisions of the EC Treaty apply (Article 299 of the EC Treaty).
Aruba. A Dutch authority referred another case, C-300/04, for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ to ascertain whether, conversely, a Member State could exclude certain categories of its own nationals resident in an overseas territory (OCT) associated with the Community from the right to vote in the European elections. Two citizens of Dutch nationality had applied for entry on the electoral roll in order to participate in the European Parliament elections. Their application was turned down on the grounds that they are resident in Aruba (OCT).
In its judgment of 12 September 2006 (PDF ), the Court confirms that persons possessing the nationality of a Member State and resident or living in an OCT may invoke the rights recognised to citizens of the Union. Under Community law, Member States may define the conditions for the right to vote and to stand as candidate for the European Parliament elections. However, in this case, the Dutch Government has not sufficiently demonstrated that the difference in treatment observed between Dutch nationals resident in a non-member country and those resident in the Netherlands Antilles or Aruba is objectively justified. The principle of equal treatment is therefore infringed. Following the replies given by the ECJ, the national court ruled that Dutch nationals resident in the Netherlands Antilles or Aruba had unjustly not been entered on the electoral roll for the elections of June 2004. The measures permitting the restoration of this right, such as compensation for damages, are established by national law.