EU citizens' electoral rights
All EU citizens have the right to vote for and stand as a candidate in European Parliament elections in their country of origin, or if they live in another EU country, they may choose to vote and stand there, under the same conditions as the nationals of that country.
EU citizens who live in another EU country also have the right to vote and stand as candidate in local or municipal elections in the country they live in, again under the same conditions as the nationals of that country.
In December 2020, the Commission published its report on EU citizenship, which includes as one of its 4 themes, the Commission’s priorities in strengthening democratic participation. See also summary Factsheet: EU Citizenship Report 2020.
The EU has issued a directive which explains the detail of how the right to vote and stand as a candidate in local and municipal elections in the country in which you live works. It includes some limited exceptions, principally
- national governments may decide that the leaders of local and municipal governments (mayors, heads of local authorities etc – this is defined in the directive) can only be one of their own nationals.
- national governments may require a minimum period of residence for EU citizens to participate in local elections if more than 20% of the voting population are non-nationals – this is very rare
The Commission publishes reports on the implementation of EU law in local and municipal elections and ways to promote electoral rights. The most recent was announced in February 2018.
As part of the Reinforcing Democracy and integrity of elections Reinforcing Democracy package adopted on 25 November 2021, the Commission made a proposal for a recast of the directive.
European Parliament elections
The common rules and principles for European Parliament elections are explained in the EU treaties, which also include a specific Act on elections.
They guarantee that Members of the European Parliament represent the citizens of the European Union, and are elected by proportional representation, by direct universal suffrage, and by a free and secret ballot.
EU countries regulate how these elections are run according to their own laws and voting traditions, provided that they do so in ways that are compatible with these general EU laws and principles.
When it comes to the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament for EU citizens living in an EU country which is not their country of origin, the EU has also issued a directive to explain the detail of how this right should work in practice.
It also includes some limited exceptions, principally
- you may not vote in more than one EU country in the same European elections (this can also be a criminal or administrative offence in national law)
- national governments may require a minimum period of residence for EU citizens to participate in European elections, if more than 20% of the voting population is made up of non-nationals – this is very rare
As part of the Reinforcing Democracy and integrity of elections package adopted on 25 November 2021, the Commission made a proposal for a recast of the directive.
For more information on national electoral laws, the European Union Observatory on Democracy (EUDO) produces a database on national electoral laws (external).
The Court of Justice confirmed that it is up to EU countries to regulate aspects of the European Parliament electoral procedure that are not harmonised at EU level.
European cooperation network on elections
The Election package adopted by the Commission on 12 September 2018, in particular its Communication and Recommendation, encourages Member States to set up national election networks, involving national authorities with competence for electoral matters and authorities in charge of monitoring and enforcing rules related to online activities relevant to the electoral context. The national election cooperation networks appointed contact points to take part in a European cooperation network on elections, which serves as a platform to alert on threats, exchange on best practices, discuss common solutions to identified challenges and encourage common projects and exercises among national networks.
Commission Recommendation on election cooperation networks, online transparency, protection against cybersecurity incidents and fighting disinformation campaigns in the context of elections to the European Parliament
What has the European Commission done?
Strengthen European democracies
In December 2020, the Commission presented its European Democracy Action Plan to empower citizens and build more resilient democracies across the EU by .promoting free and fair elections; strengthening media freedom and countering disinformation. The Commission also published its report on EU citizenship, which includes as one of its 4 themes, the Commission’s priorities in strengthening democratic participation. See also summary Factsheet: European Democracy Action Plan and EU citizenship report 2020.
In June 2020, the Commission published a report on the 2019 European Parliament elections and a staff working document which accompanies the report. This report reviews the conduct of the 2019 elections and the implementation of the Commission’s 2018 electoral package, including measures taken to enhance transparency, protect free and fair elections and promote the democratic participation of all European citizens.
Following 2019 elections to the European Parliament, the Commission received a large number of complaints concerning the possibility for mobile EU citizens to exercise effectively their voting rights in the UK. Please see the attached letter for more information concerning this issue.
Following 2019 elections to the European Parliament, the Commission also received a large number of complaints by Romanian citizens concerning the difficulties encountered in voting at Romanian consulates abroad.
Please see the attached letter for more information concerning this issue.
In September 2018 the Commission issued a package of measures to support free and fair European elections, including a Communication; a Recommendation on election cooperation networks online transparency protection against cybersecurity incidents and fighting disinformation campaigns in the context of elections to the European Parliament; a Guidance document on the application of Union data protection law in the electoral context; and a Legislative proposal to provide sanctions for the deliberate misuse of personal data by European political parties and foundations to influence the outcome of the elections. See also the Factsheets on Free and fair European elections and on Protecting Europeans’ personal data in elections.
In February 2018 the Commission issued a Communication and a Recommendation on enhancing the European nature and efficient conduct of the 2019 elections to the European Parliament.
In May 2015, the Commission published a report on the 2014 European Parliament elections. This report reviews the 2014 elections, including measures taken to enhance their transparency, and democratic conduct.
In March 2014 the Commission presented a pre-election report on further enhancing the democratic and efficient conduct of the European Parliament elections.
Ahead of the 2014 European elections, the Commission published a recommendation and a communication. The recommendations are addressed to EU countries, national political parties and to European political parties.
Voting rights of expatriates
In January 2014 the European Commission published two guidance documents for EU countries on the loss of voting rights for citizens in national elections. In some EU countries, EU citizens can lose their voting rights simply because they decide to live in another EU country.
Whilst EU countries are competent to determine who can benefit from the right to vote in national elections, such practices can negatively affects people's right to free movement (recommendation, communication).
Knowing your rights and where to get help
Your Europe - Information and advice on the electoral rights of EU citizens and their family
SOLVIT – Get help when working with your national authorities if you encounter difficulties
see the Eurobarometer survey on electoral rights
see the Eurobarometer survey on democracy in the EU