Brussels, 26 September 2013
Electoral rights: Commission action ensures EU citizens can cast their vote in European and local elections
European Union citizens will be able to use their right to vote in European and local elections more easily when living in another EU country, following legal action by the European Commission. The news comes as the Commission today closed infringement proceedings against Bulgaria for applying additional requirements to non-Bulgarian EU citizens wishing to vote or stand as a candidate in local and European elections (for example to provide the number and date of their residence certificate). Following changes to Bulgarian law, the Commission has decided to end legal action against the country. The Commission had identified similar obstacles to EU citizens’ voting rights in their country of residence in a further ten Member States (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia) since 2010, which have now been resolved except in three pending cases. The move comes eight months ahead of the next elections for the European Parliament, to be held on 22-25 May 2014.
"In May 2014, European citizens will have the chance to vote in the next European elections. This is the key moment in Europe’s democracy and I want them to make their voices heard on their future in Europe," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. " That is why the European Commission has taken decisive action to make sure that the 8 million EU citizens of voting age who live in another EU country can effectively use their right to vote – both in European and local elections."
European Union citizenship gives every citizen of an EU Member State the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal and European elections in whichever EU country the citizen resides. This right must be granted under the same conditions as nationals. Two pieces of EU legislation establish detailed conditions for citizens to be able to exercise these rights.
Since the adoption of Directive 93/109/EC (on the right of EU citizens to participate in European elections) and Directive 94/80/EC (on the right of EU citizens to participate in municipal elections), the Commission has engaged in an active dialogue with Member States to ensure that EU citizens can actually enjoy these important rights in practice. The Commission therefore carried out an extensive series of checks to ensure that the EU rules are correctly implemented and applied in all national laws.
After the last wave of accessions to the EU and following the commitments it made in the first EU Citizenship Report from 2010, the Commission asked 11 Member States to adapt or clarify their legislation to remove various obstacles to EU citizens’ voting rights. The countries concerned were Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. The issues ranged from additional registration requirements for EU citizens to providing them with adequate information about their voting rights. Some countries failed to collect adequate data to prevent cases of double voting (bringing a vote in European elections in both the country of origin and residence, which is illegal under EU law).
Infringement proceedings were brought against Bulgaria on both Directives. Between 2011 and 2012, decisive Commission action has ensured that EU law is properly implemented in most of the Member States through a combination of constructive, informal dialogue and through legal action. As a result, the obstacles have been resolved in all but three countries. In the remaining cases (Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia), the law is currently being amended or changes are due to enter into force.
Freedom of movement is the most cherished right of EU citizenship (see press release No. 14/2011). Indeed, more and more Europeans benefit from this right and live in another EU Member State: in 2010, an estimated 12.3 million citizens were living in a Member State other than their own (STAT/11/105). Around 8 million of these are of voting age.
Thanks to EU citizenship – which does not replace national citizenship but complements it – all nationals of the 28 EU Member States also have the right to vote and stand in local and European elections in the EU country they live in.
However, only around 10% of those EU citizens living in another EU country take advantage of their right to vote and stand in local elections, according to a 2012 report by the European Commission (IP/12/229). The report found that while most countries have implemented the relevant EU rules (Directive 94/80/EC) in a satisfactory way, some obstacles remained. It also found that some citizens may not be aware of their rights and procedures may sometimes prove too cumbersome.
In its 2010 EU Citizenship Report, the Commission raised the issue of steadily declining turnout in the European elections and the need to facilitate the participation of EU citizens in the elections (IP/10/1390). One way to address this issue is working with Member States to ensure that EU citizens residing in an EU Member State other than their own can participate in European elections under the same conditions as national citizens, in line with EU law (Action 18 of the EU Citizenship Report). In addition, in its 2013 EU Citizenship Report the European Commission announced to work on solutions to end the practice in some Member States of depriving their citizens of their right to vote once they move to another EU country (IP/13/410 and MEMO/13/409).
In December 2012, the EU Council of Ministers adopted a European Commission proposal to make it easier for EU citizens living in another Member State to stand as candidates in the 2014 European Parliament elections (MEMO/12/1020). The new law simplifies the procedure (currently regulated by Directive 93/109/EC) for EU citizens to stand as candidates for the European Parliament in another EU Member State. It is another of the Commission’s initiatives to promote and facilitate participation in the European elections.
European Commission – EU citizenship – electoral rights:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU