30 Jahre Deutsche Einheit Mehr erfahren

22.5.2014 | Von:
Kees Groenendijk


The 1992 Maastricht Treaty introduced the legal status of citizen of the Union. Ever since, nationals of EU Member States residing in another Member State have the right to vote and stand for election on municipal level in their country of residence. Only 15 of 28 Member States have granted local voting rights to non-EU nationals as well. However, they do apply certain conditions to restrict that right. Arguments that oppose the granting of voting rights to non-nationals are oftentimes purely ideological and without empirical basis.

Spanier bei lokalen und regionalen Wahlen: Portugal und Spanien sind die einzigen südeuropäischen EU-Mitgliedsländer, die ausgewählten Zuwanderergruppen aus nicht-EU-Staaten die Wahlteilnahme erlauben.Lokal an regional elections in Spain: Portugal and Spain are the only southern EU Member States that have granted voting rights to residents from a selected group of countries outside the EU. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Four large Member States (Germany, France, Italy and Poland) and most of the Member States in Central or Eastern Europe that acceded to the EU in 2004 and 2007 have not (yet) granted voting rights to non-EU residents. The result is that Portugal and Spain are the only Southern EU Member States that have granted voting rights to residents from a selected group of countries outside the EU, mainly to nationals from their former colonies or on the basis of reciprocity. In the political debate in several Member States extending voting rights to non-citizen residents and facilitation of the acquisition of the nationality by birth or by naturalization were presented as alternatives. However, it appears that, generally, the EU Member States that granted voting rights, in practice also allow immigrants to acquire the nationality more easily than the Member States that exclude third-country national residents from voting in municipal elections. This indicates that both issues (voting rights and nationality law) apparently are related to dominant ideas about state nationhood and constitutionals arrangements.

Extending voting rights is a low-cost measure. Sharing political power with an additional group may be symbolically painful, but in reality, power-sharing only marginally reduces the political power of old voters. None of the 15 EU states that granted local voting rights to non-national residents has abolished this right because of its presumed or real negative effects. Since 1988, the anti-immigrant Danish Peoples Party has pleaded repeatedly for restricting existing voting rights for non-national residents, granted in Denmark in 1981. But the party has never received support from any other political party.[1] Once local voting rights are granted, these rights never appear as a source of serious conflict. Apparently, most politicians in the countries concerned consider that the advantages outweigh any disadvantage.

This text is part of the policy brief "Voting rights and political participation of non-national immigrants".


Oostergaard-Nielsen (2007).
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