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

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 pdf български (bg)czech (cs)dansk (da)Deutsch (de)eesti (et)ελληνικά (el)español (es)Français (fr)Gaeilge (ga)italiano (it)latviešu (lv)lietuvių (lt)magyar (hu)Malti (mt)Nederlands (nl)polski (pl)português (pt)română (ro)slovenčina (sk)slovenščina (sl)suomi (fi)svenska (sv) . 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 български (bg)czech (cs)dansk (da)Deutsch (de)eesti (et)ελληνικά (el)español (es)Français (fr)Gaeilge (ga)italiano (it)latviešu (lv)lietuvių (lt)magyar (hu)Malti (mt)Nederlands (nl)polski (pl)português (pt)română (ro)slovenčina (sk)slovenščina (sl)suomi (fi)svenska (sv), 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(148 kB) 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 български (bg)czech (cs)dansk (da)Deutsch (de)eesti (et)ελληνικά (el)español (es)Français (fr)Gaeilge (ga)italiano (it)latviešu (lv)lietuvių (lt)magyar (hu)Malti (mt)Nederlands (nl)polski (pl)português (pt)română (ro)slovenčina (sk)slovenščina (sl)suomi (fi)svenska (sv):

  • 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 are 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.

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

However, they must respect EU law and its general principles; notably equality of treatment and non-discrimination, but also democracy and fundamental rights.

What is the European Commission doing in this area?

On 29 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(50 kB) Choose translations of the previous link ; Communication COM/2014/33 finalpdf(85 kB) 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 2013 (COM/2013/269)pdf(2 MB) Choose translations of the previous link  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.

In view of preparing the 2014 European elections the Commission adopted on 12 March 2013 a Communicationpdf(92 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  and a Recommendationpdf(67 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  for further enhancing their democratic and efficient conduct of these elections. The recommendations are addressed to the Member States, national political parties and to European political parties.

On 27 March 2014 the Commission presented a reportpdf(78 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  on the implementation of its recommendations. This is a preliminary report on initiatives that Member States and national and European political parties are developing to implement the recommendations. An overview of the information contained in this report can be found in the Annexpdf(62 kB) Choose translations of the previous link . The report also looks at how the recommendations were taken up by other institutions and by civil society. This report aims 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. The Commission will continue to monitor Member States’ and political parties’ implementation of its recommendations in the run-up to the elections (table of implementation available herepdf(76 kB)).

The last European Parliament elections were held in June 2009. A report on the implementation of EU lawpdf(87 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  in these elections and a Eurobarometer survey on electoral rightspdf Choose translations of the previous link  were published in 2010.