Participating in the democratic life of European Union is a right for everyone. Elections procedures must be easier and more accessible for European citizens who live in another member State.

Legal - March 15, 2023

There are about 11 million European citizens eligible to vote who are “mobile” because they reside in another member state where they live, study, work, etc.

However, these citizens has to face several obstacles when they want to participate in European and municipal elections. In fact, the debate on the right to participate in electoral processes for so-called “mobile EU citizens” has been going on for years. According to EU legislation they have the right to vote and stand for election in European Parliament elections in the country where they have their residency, under the same conditions as citizens of that country, and at the same time retain the right to vote or stand for election in the country of which they are nationals. A consultation held by the European Commission in 2021, produced an impact assessment regarding the electoral rights of mobile EU citizens that notes some critical points in the exercise of this right.

Among the limitations to full participation in European democratic life of mobile EU citizens is the lack of knowledge of electoral rights guaranteed even while mobile and limited information on the subject, but also the difficulty in accessing information on administrative procedures. Often these citizens prefer not to register on the electoral rolls of the member states where they reside because the registration procedures are burdensome and there is also the risk of being simultaneously removed from the electoral rolls of their home country.

In addition, member states still experience problems in being able to fully prevent multiple voting incidents during European Parliament elections because they have difficulty sharing information to identify voters and candidates registered more than once in more than one state.

Directives 93/109/EC1 and 94/80/EC2 contain detailed instructions for exercising these rights in European and municipal elections. Indeed, they establish minimum standards and procedures for the right to vote and stand for election for mobile EU citizens. Both directives also include obligations to support the participation of mobile EU citizens, for example by receiving in time the information they need to exercise their electoral rights. Specifically, it is Directive 93/109/EC that regulates the exchange of information between member states about registered voters, so as to prevent citizens from voting more than once in European Parliament elections.

However, a number of problems have been experienced in the practical implementation of EU regulations on multiple voting control and clear information about the electoral rights and procedures of mobile EU citizens. The advent of the covid-19 pandemic has further complicated the plight of this special category of voters, multiplying the factors of confusion and consequent withdrawal from exercising their right to vote.

Out of the estimated more than 17 million mobile EU citizens in 2019, only nearly 14 million were eligible to vote, but despite this, voter turnout rates and the number of mobile EU citizens that wants to stand for elections continues to decline.

Briefly describing this situation, the main problems are the following ones. The exchange of information between national authorities on mobile EU citizens is hindered by the different scope of data exchanged and the non-harmonization of the dates that represent the deadlines for collecting such data. This makes the management of multiple voting much more complicated, and the verification of the political requirements of the citizen who intends to exercise a right that perhaps has been previously denied in the home country due to, for example, a criminal conviction. In addition, the duration of registration on the electoral roll is not always clear, let alone the obligation to notify mobile EU citizens of their registration to vote is not always respected, and information about upcoming municipal or European elections is not always shared in time. In addition to this, there’s a situation where it should be ensured a transparent and immediate communication, despite the multitude of languages spoken in Europe. On the level of administrative impediments, it should be pointed out that it is very complicated for mobile EU citizens to run in municipal elections, despite the fact that the directives mentioned above guarantee this special right.

Recently, the European Commission has decided to change in some way the Council Directives 93/109/CE and 94/80/CE, in order to enforce the right to vote for the mobile EU citizens, following the principles of non-discrimination and fully participation to the democratic life of the European Union

Specifically, the EU Commission has proposed three different policy options in this legislative field. The first option would intend to introduce. La prima consiste in una soluzione che prevede some new soft law measures, without changing anything reported in the Directives. In this way the Directives does not change, but soft law measures would promote the right to vote by introducing different tools (for example, a remote voting option); this policy also would encourage a shared campaign to inform mobile EU citizens of their rights and the procedures that should be followed to be really involved in the decisional process of the EU.

Second policy option intends to update the Council Directives, in order to facilitate the exercise of electoral rights for EU mobile citizens in municipal and European elections within the EU territory, in a different way following the different elections.
Finally, the European Commission has presented a third option, which would include an update of both Directives, in addition to a general harmonization in terms of legislation. Also, in this case it would be useful to coordinate the whole voting process to ensure that administrative steps are performed efficiently, transparently and can be readily reversed if needed.

Participating in elections, whether they are European or municipal, is fundamental when it comes to democracy and citizens’ participation in the political life of their country and the Union itself. Participation in the European decision-making process is therefore also necessary in relation to the criticism that is often levelled at European institutions, which are considered not transparent and distant from citizens.

It is precisely for this reason that the ECR Group considers it a priority to facilitate procedures so that mobile EU citizens can participate directly and democratically in local elections, which are the ultimate expression of the will of the land. It is therefore essential that all the Union citizens that are resident in a Member State, even when they are not nationals, take part, whether actively or passively.

To be able to do this, the right information on how to exercise the right to vote must be communicated and burdensome registration procedures must be eased. Every citizen has the right to participate in the democratic life of the EU, and decisions should be made as transparently and as close to citizens as possible.

The resolution presented by the MEP Joachim Stanisław Brudziński (ECR Group) it was approved by the EU Parliament on 14th February. This document is relevant in the view of a facilitation of the voting procedures during the municipal elections and in order to ensure full and effective access to the electoral rights by removing all obstacles to their participation in municipal elections, as well as by providing full access to relevant information. The document also aims to ensure full and effective access to the electoral rights by removing all obstacles to the participation of all the EU citizens, despite the nationality, during the municipal elections, as well as by providing full access to relevant information.

In conclusion, it is fundamental that all the people that express the wish to stand or to vote in municipal elections in the Member State of residence, and they all should be treated equally, ensuring a real and effective democracy among all the European Union.