Local elections are held in England this Thursday and parliamentary elections in both Scotland and Wales. In England, citizens vote for their local and regional representatives, the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, among others.
Not only British citizens can participate in these local elections, but also any citizen of a member country of the European Union residing in England, a right they have always had. However, this could be the last time that many Europeans will be able to exercise their right to vote in the country’s local elections.
“After these elections, the UK will address local voting rights on a bilateral basis for England. So far, the authorities have reached an agreement with Poland, Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg on the rights of voters in local elections. agreements affect British citizens in these European countries and vice versa, “explains Alexandra Bulat, president of the European youth network at The3million, a non-profit organization that campaigns for the rights of Europeans in the UK.
After the United Kingdom left the EU, this right of Europeans has been left in limbo. The Withdrawal Agreement signed between the European Union and the country included voting as part of the rights that were safeguarded. On the other hand, this competence does not depend on the Government of the United Kingdom, but each territory of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) can decide whether to allow resident Europeans to vote. Thus, both Scotland and Wales agreed that Europeans could vote in their local elections and in elections to the parliament of their respective territories.
In England, on the other hand, automatically and as long as there are no bilateral agreements with the country of origin, EU citizens have lost a right that they did have before Brexit. It is England who has the last word on it. “Existing legislation will need to be amended and remove the right to vote – and to be voted – to citizens of the European Union in local elections after Brexit,” the authors note. of a publication
If England does not reach an agreement with each of the EU countries for the next local elections, there will be a situation of inequality among the European citizens residing on the islands. With the agreements signed so far, the Greeks, for example, will not be able to exercise their right to vote in the next local elections while a polish can. “Voting rights at the local level should be protected. In the referendum, we were promised that our rights would not change. This includes our right to vote. European citizens in the UK should keep this going in the future, as promised.” Alexandra claims.
For many, therefore, these elections could be the last in which they will be able to exercise a right that gives them a voice over the future of the country in which they reside and be able, in this way, to elect representatives who will protect their rights. However, many Europeans do not know that they have this right. According to him last report of the Electoral Commission (2016), only 53% of Europeans were registered to vote, compared to 86% of UK citizens.
What are the causes of the low participation of Europeans? “We have been with the COVID-19 crisis for a year. There is great concern around voting, about how safe it will be to vote,” explains Alexandra. “There is also some misinformation and confusion on this issue. Some are not aware that they can vote and other Europeans who voted in the past believe that they can no longer vote for Brexit.”
On the other hand, many people do not understand how local elections work in England, according to Celso Blanes, a Spaniard living in London. “There are three ballots in these elections, you choose the representatives of the city, the representatives of your district and the mayor. Among those three things, there are many people who do not understand it, who do not know who their representatives are. to go to vote, and therefore normally the electoral turnout is very low, “explains Celso. Compared to Spain, where there is campaigning and the media bombard the audience with information, here there is hardly any publicity about it, nor are there any posters on the street. “You hardly even know that there are elections,” he says.
Faced with scarce information, a situation aggravated this year by the pandemic and the lack of a strong candidate in London, Europeans stress the importance of exercising that right and maintaining it after Brexit.
“It is important for any European citizen that if we want to be taken into account, they let us vote. In this way we can show our importance and influence,” says Ruta Dalton, of Lithuanian origin and resident of Peterborough, a small town in central England . “Are about four million, we need to show that we are an important voting bloc (…) Perhaps, if we are strong enough in the vote, we could vote in the general elections. “The next general elections are scheduled for May 2, 2024.
Another citizen who agrees with these statements is Robert Iatan, a young man from Romania who has been in England since the age of 10 and yet has not wanted to acquire British citizenship. “I think the reason why it is so important to vote is because it is one of the few opportunities we have to express our point of view, what we like and what we don’t like (…) I also think that it is especially important if you are young, since it is about our future “he affirms.
One of the demands from different bodies and organizations during the negotiation period was to guarantee the rights of all EU citizens. “I don’t like the fact that they have to make bilateral agreements, just to ensure a right that we already had. We had that right, and now they have taken it from us, without knowing our point of view,” says Iatan.
“The fact that some agreements have been reached is a positive thing,” says the Romanian. He believes that “the UK government should do more. For example, say if it really wants to guarantee their rights and how they are going to do it with each country.”
New Europeans, another organization that campaigns for the rights of Europeans, called on one of his statements to the British Government to confirm that it will guarantee the right to vote of European citizens in the United Kingdom for local and regional elections “regardless of whether there is a bilateral agreement”.