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Electoral rights

man submitting a vote in a ballot box © Agence DER, fotolia

The right to vote for and stand as a candidate in municipal and European Parliament elections

EU citizenship gives every EU citizen the right to vote for and stand as a candidate in municipal and European Parliament elections in whichever EU country the citizen resides, under the same conditions as nationals. This right is conferred directly on every EU citizen by Article 22 of the EU Treaty. It is also taken up in Articles 39 and 40 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rightspdf. There are however a few exceptions and limitations.

Municipal elections

According to an EU directive from 1994, there are two exceptions to the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections:

  • an EU country may stipulate that the office of elected head of the executive body of a basic local government unit can only be held by its own nationals;
  • an EU country may require an additional period of residence for participating in local elections if more than 20% of the eligible voting population are non-nationals.

A report on the implementation of EU lawpdf Choose translations of the previous link  in local elections and ways to promote the electoral rights has been adopted on 9 March 2012.

European elections

The right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament has the following limitations according to an EU directive from 1993:

  • You may not vote in more than one EU country in the same European elections;
  • EU countries may require an additional period of residence for participating in European elections, if more than 20% of the eligible voting population is non-nationals.

Each EU country decides on the procedures of its election, but there are common principles that govern elections to the European Parliament. MEPs are elected on the basis of proportional representation, by direct universal suffrage, and by a free and secret ballot. For more information on national Electoral Laws, please visit the Database on national electoral laws (external).

The Court of Justice confirmed that it is up to EU countries to regulate aspects of European Parliament electoral procedure not harmonized at EU level.

However, they must respect EU law, including the Charter on Fundamental Rightspdf, and the general principles of EU law; notably equality of treatment and non-discrimination, but also democracy and fundamental rights.

EU citizenship is regularly taken into consideration in the judgments of the Court of the Justice.

Do you or your family members need more information and advice? Please visit Your Europe

Do you need help to solve a problem or want to file a complaint? Please visit Your Rights

What has the European Commission done?

European Parliament elections

In May 2015, the Commission published a report on the 2014 European Parliament electionspdf Choose translations of the previous link . This report reviews the 2014 elections, measures taken to enhance their transparency, democratic conduct and the European dimension. It assesses citizens’ awareness of the elections and the associated rights, action taken by Member States and EU institutions in this respect, and actual turnout. It also looks at the enforcement of EU citizens’ electoral rights.

In March 2014 the Commission presented a pre-elections reportpdf Choose translations of the previous link  on the implementation of its recommendations, adopted in 2013 for further enhancing their democratic and efficient conduct (see below). This was a preliminary report on initiatives that Member States and national and European political parties were developing to implement the recommendations.. The report also looked at how the recommendations were taken up by other institutions and by civil society. This report aimed to stimulate exchanges of best practice and encourage new initiatives to enhance the democratic life of the EU in light of the upcoming 2014 European elections. An overview of the information contained in this report can be found in the Annexpdf Choose translations of the previous link .

In view of preparing the 2014 European elections the Commission the 12 March 2013 adopted a Recommendationpdf Choose translations of the previous link  and a Communicationpdf Choose translations of the previous link . The recommendations are addressed to the Member States, national political parties and to European political parties. On the previous elections to the European Parliament, held in 2009, the Commission published a "Report on the election of Members of the European Parliament and on the participation of European Union citizens in elections for the European Parliament in the Member State of residence (COM(2010)603 finalpdf Choose translations of the previous link ).

Voting rights of expatriates

In January 2014 the European Commission issued guidance to EU-Member States which have rules in place leading to a loss of voting rights for citizens in national elections, simply because they have exercised their right to free movement in the EU (Recommendation C/2014/391 finalpdf Choose translations of the previous link ; Communication COM/2014/33 finalpdf Choose translations of the previous link ). Whilst under the existing EU Treaties, Member States are competent to determine who can benefit from the right to vote in national elections, disenfranchisement practices can negatively affect EU free movement rights and are also at odds with the founding premise of EU citizenship which is meant to give citizens additional rights, rather than depriving them of rights. These recommendations follow the EU Citizenship Report 2013pdf Choose translations of the previous link  (COM/2013/269) in which the Commission already announced that it shall propose constructive ways to enable EU citizens living in another EU country to fully participate in the democratic life of the EU by maintaining their right to vote in national elections in their country of origin.

Public surveys

Eurobarometer surveypdf Choose translations of the previous link  on electoral rights

Further reading on electoral rights of Union citizens

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