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EU puts pressure on UK over votes

The commission has put out strongly-worded advice to member states criticising time-limited national voting rights

30 January 2014

THE European Commission is officially urging member states such as the UK to allow its expats the right to vote for life. Currently the UK bans voting after 15 years of living abroad.

Though the commission cannot oblige the UK to allow expats to vote for life, it asks that Britain and a few other countries with similar policies reconsider their laws.

It says they should “enable their nationals who make use of their right to free movement and residence in the union to demonstrate a continuing interest in the [home country’s] political life, through an application to remain registered on the electoral roll, and by doing so, to retain their right to vote”.

The commission adds that it is acceptable for states to require expats to periodically renew their registration “at appropriate intervals” but recommends this should be able to be done over the internet.

Furthermore, if someone’s registration period is coming up for renewal, states should remind them of it in “an “appropriate”and “timely” way, the commission says.

At present Britons must renew annually in order to be remain registered to vote in their last UK constituency (there is more on how to do this at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk) however they lose the vote after 15 years abroad. In theory they should receive a reminder every year that their renewal date is coming up.

In its guidelines the commission reiterated the view put forward last year by Vice President Viviane Reding, that the “15-year rule” disenfranchises people who have merely chosen to exercise their right to free movement in the EU, and may discourage others from doing so.

It adds that: “The main justification for disenfranchisement rules – that citizens living abroad no longer have sufficient links with their home country – seems outdated in today’s interconnected world”. It adds disenfranchisement is “at odds with the founding premise of EU citizenship which is meant to give citizens additional rights, rather than depriving them of rights”.

Ms Reding said: “The right to vote is one of the fundamental political rights of citizenship. It is part of the very fabric of democracy. Depriving citizens of their right to vote once they move to another EU country is effectively tantamount to punishing citizens for having exercised their right to free movement. Such practices risk making them second-class citizens.”

A spokesman for the British Cabinet Office said they are still preparing a response to the criticisms and could not comment yet.

The commission notes in its guidelines that “recurrent petitions, questions from MEPs and correspondence from the general public reveal that EU citizens are concerned at what they perceive as a gap in their political rights.”

Among the groups which have submitted protests to the commission are the British Community Committee of France (BCC), which states they are now preparing a “simpler” version in which they will “call on it to adopt the principle that no Member State should discriminate against its own citizens on grounds of residence in another Member State". The BCC’s Christopher Chantrey said: "Voting rights for expats and other matters such as discriminatory pensions, family allowances arrangements, Winter Fuel Payments etc, come under this broad principle."

This comes as the Electoral Commission prepares to launch a campaign to remind Britons abroad who still have the vote, to make use of it, including voting in the EU elections this May. At the latest they must register by May 7.

Note however, that if you plan to vote in the EU elections in France instead – which is a right of EU-nationality residents - you cannot vote in both countries.

The Electoral Commission is designating February 26 as "Expat Register to Vote Day", when it will suggest people "take five minutes out of their day" to check its information site and take action if they are not already registered. Options include a postal or a proxy vote.

Connexion believes that designated MPs for expats in the British parliament, such as France has for its expats, would help make sure expats’ voices are heard on voting and other rights. If you agree sign the petition at: MPs for expats

If it reaches 10,000 signatures we will receive an official written government response. If your French post code is not accepted, leave this field blank.

The following site also invites votes and comments on the issue of the 15-year rule: Votes for expat Brits

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