February 28, 2014
Being actively involved in raising awareness of the upcoming European elections and trying to increase young voters’ turnout, we have identified a number of impediments that under certain circumstances limit citizens’ opportunities to participate in the elections. In a previous article, AEGEE put forward a debate about inequalities that exist in the EU Member States regarding the minimum age to be eligible to vote and to stand as a candidate. This time we address the issue of the different national rules that determine the right of citizens to cast their votes when residing or traveling abroad on the day of elections.
We find it unacceptable that the provisions for participation of citizens while abroad – within the borders of the EU or beyond – are so diverse and discrepant for the European Parliament elections. To mention just a few examples, while Bulgarian citizens are legally allowed to cast their vote if they reside in any other country, Cypriots are completely deprived of this right; while Hungarian electorate has an opportunity to vote in these EP elections no matter where they live – outside or inside the EU-, Greeks can only exercise their voting rights within the Union. There are many more contradictions, therefore AEGEE emphasises that since we are electing a single European legislative body, all European citizens must be provided with equal voting rights and through similar procedures.
Even when people are allowed to vote from abroad, there are many differences: in some countries proxy or postal voting is possible (e.g. Austria, Latvia, Belgium), in Estonia e-voting system functions, but in other countries the only available option is to vote in person from your own country’s diplomatic representation (e.g. Romania, Croatia, Czech Republic). Current situation causes several negative consequences that worsen EU’s institutional image and decrease citizen satisfaction with, and trust in, the EU.
The obstacles to participate in the EP elections potentially decrease voter turnout, especially in those countries with a significant number of citizens abroad. The level of citizen participation in EP elections is already worryingly low – only 43% of Europeans voted in the last elections to the EP in 2009. AEGEE considers that rules and procedures for participation in European elections should be simplified to counter this low turnout, to avoid losing more voters and more voices in the upcoming elections.
Additionally, when citizens face such set of constraints for their engagement in democracy, the perception of legitimacy of the political entity substantially decreases. The principles of consistency and equality are undermined from the moment nationals from different Member States do not exercise the same rights. Is this something the EU – being highly criticised for its democratic deficit in the past years – can afford?
Last but not least, these diverse rules and procedures are not in line with one of the EU’s main goals and greatest achievements – mobility of citizens. Having provided us with an opportunity of free movement among 28 countries, the EU has failed to adjust these basic regulations that should enhance the feeling of being European.
The aforementioned implies that the Y Vote project of AEGEE-Europe claims for two explicit things:
- rules and procedures for the participation in European elections from abroad should be as equal as possible in all 28 Member States
- these rules and procedures should provide better access to participation in elections in order to foster higher citizen representation.
Hence, AEGEE welcomes the petition Equal Voting Rights and Procedures for all EU Citizens in EP Elections initiated by European Citizens Abroad, and strongly encourages everyone to sign it!
Written by Diana Ondža, Communications Manager of the AEGEE-Europe Y Vote 2014 Project
In order to achieve the goals AEGEE-Europe has set for itself regarding the European elections, the Y Vote 2014 Project was successfully launched in 2013. The project aims at reaching young people, especially first-time voters, in order to turn them into important actors of the upcoming European Parliamentary Elections through different discussions, campaigns and actions. A number of events have been already implemented, however our ambitions grow as our achievements augment.
eVoting: Gunnar3000 Fotolia