PizzeriaAfter more than 24 hours of intrigue and wrangling, it looks like Prodi’s Unione has managed to achieve the narrowest possible victory in the Italian election. The margin for the Camera was something ludicrous like 0.06% but the election system means Prodi will get 55% of the seats. For the Senato, Prodi will have a majority of 2 and the balance of power: the Italians living outside Italy!

This is especially ironic as the plan to give these Italians a vote was the idea of Berlusconi’s government, and now they have voted for Prodi he is crying foul and calling for investigations into vote rigging – see this from the BBC! Seems he’s about as graceful in defeat as he was in the campaign… He’s also made an appeal to Prodi to create a grand coalition, a request that Prodi has sensibly turned down.

Yet beneath all of this claim and counter claim is a very serious issue: what should the rights of Italians living outside Italy actually be? Some of the people voting have never lived in Italy throughout their lives. The idea to give them representation is similar to the situation in France where there are 12 Sénateurs représentant les Français établis hors de France – see the special website for them here.

On the other hand, the situation for Brits living abroad is far from easy – they lose the right to vote in UK elections after 15 years of residence outside the UK – see this detailed article from The Telegraph. Then the issue is further complicated by the fact that voting in municipal and European Parliament elections is based on residence rather than nationality, allowing EU citizens to vote wherever in the EU they live… And then there is the issue of how different countries grant rights to ethnic minorities to vote. The UK has always been OK with granting those from Commonwealth countries the right to vote, while most of Germany’s Gästarbeiter still have no possibility to gain a political voice. All of these issues and more are summed up by Richard Laming in the Federal Union Blog.

It’s clear that the whole of Europe needs to debate this matter. It’s ludicrous that a person of Italian descent owning a pizzeria in Buenos Aires has an impact on Italian politics (and hence European politics) when a British citizen who has worked for the European Commission for 16 years would have no say in any general election anywhere. The solution is to grant rights to votes based on residence, rather than nationality or ethnicity. Government has an impact on you in the place you presently reside, and that is where you should vote. Simple, correct, yet sadly not likely to happen any time soon!

10 Comments

  1. Well, well well… An interesting debate indeed.

    Actually, as a Frenchmen who actually lived for several years in the UK and in Brussels, I never used this Senate system, because I was still registered in Strasbourg, where my parents live, and because it is also very easy for us to vote by proxy by just going to the nearest French consulate and send a copy of the proxy form to anyone who live in your constituency.

    The representation of French expats in the Senate is something which is only used by real expats: those who really have no physical link to France (and there are not a lot of them, since even having a holiday home (résidence secondaire) entitles you to the right to vote for General Elections).

    I think that nationality is very much more than residence. The right to vote for French election is linked to the fact that you are exercising part of the French national sovereignty. It isn’t linked at all to the fact that you pay your taxes or not, but that you recognise yourself as being part of the nation. If some people (even wihout having ever actually lived in the country) have a French origin (because of their parents for instance), and feel an attachement to this country, I do not see why they should not be entitled to express their views by voting. Actually, some French people living abroad probably to more for their country than those who live inside.

    On the other hand, for national elections (I’m not talking about local ones, here), if a foreigner does not want to ask the French nationality, that means he/she does not want to be part of the nation. And that, therefore, he/she does not want to be a citizen (since, contrary to other countries, citizenship and nationality are linked in France), there’s no reason why he/she should have the right to vote.

    To this, I must add two reserves:

    1. the problem in France is that nationality laws are not up to this ideal image. In fact, it is quite difficult to become French because of the laws passed by the right. Furthermore, the situation is even worse for the nationals of a country which does not accept the double nationality (we, as the Brits, are perfectly happy with people having two nationalities or more): that’s the case for many immigrants, who do not want to choose between being French and being something else. And it is of course very rare that they choose to give up their original nationality altogether. A German teacher of mine did so, a few years ago: she used to be German, and she gave up her nationality to become French, because Germany did not accept it. So, at least for them, we should find a way to entitle them to exercise a part of the national sovereignty without actually being French.

    2. The second point at hand is Europe. EU citizens are not “foreigners” like any other. Today, sovereignty (if there is such a thing) is not exercised at national level any more. I do not think it has disappeared. Instead, it has just shifted to the EU level and now, some parts of it are exercised at national level, others at EU level. Therefore, the French national sovereignty remains, but it is most of the time exercised within the EU, so, indirectly, all the other EU citizens. I would therefore argue that to take this into account, EU citizens should be entitled to vote in national elections in the country in which they live as well

    I’m not sure I made myself very clear here, but anyway… Got to go back to work!

  2. I think there is no simple answer to the question to the question whether expatriates should vote or not. It depends. It’s an interesting case, though, and maybe the first time that a national election has been decided by expatriate votes. Anyway, I’m going to try to do a more substantial post on “should expatriates vote” on my own blog, probably tomorrow. Interesting thread, though, Jon.

  3. Radostina

    Why do I need the Bulgarian passport then? That’s why I brought up the question about citizenship, because the concept of citizenship is that you enjoy certain rights and have to carry certain responsibilities. And if all the rights are given to me by the fact that I have a permanent citizenship elsewhere…then it’s only the responsibilities left. I don’t get the point really.What does the Bulgarian passport give me?
    Not to mention that even in the healthcare things are complicated and not always determined by where you live. Until recently it was so that every Bulgarian citizen has to pay to the state, no matter where they live. And basically this leads that if one is living abroad, they pay double…but that’s probably only the Bulgarian case. Although I am sure we can find plenty of other absurdities all around Europe.
    Jon, I found out that in the UK one can vote by proxy, postal vote etc. What do you think of this? I personally had to laugh when I heard about this.

  4. Thanks for the explanations Radostina and Jovan! 🙂

    I think Radostina’s point about the visas and being dependent on national governments for things like that is very valid – there are still things we will be dependent on our national governments for, wherever we live.

    However, I think it is preferable to have the rights and responsibilities where you are resident – decisions on healthcare, education, social security probably have a greater impact on your everyday live than the decisions of your ‘home’ country government do.

    The next step would then be if – say – you had a Bulgarian passport but permanent residence status in Germany, you could apply for visas to go elsewhere as if you were a German citizen…?

  5. Well, the problem is one of identity… However long someone lives elsewhere they still may feel British or Bulgarian or whatever. For many expats, the only manifestation of this might be what passport they carry. I know that’s quite illogical, but I don’t think the identity-passport link should be ignored.

    When it comes to rights and responsibilities, those should be linked to where you live first and foremost – as I argued in the original post.

    As for postal and proxy votes: yes, we do have these universally in the UK. Details are available at the AboutMyVote website. To be quite honest, I think the UK’s approach on postal and proxy votes is completely silly. Anyone can have a postal vote or a proxy vote, no questions asked. This leaves the whole election system very open to fraud, the only safeguard being the supposed law-abiding nature of the British people. The UK government does not seem to care – it just wants to make voting easier for people…

    As far as I am concerned, proxy and postal votes are vital in certain circumstances – people who are ill, people temporarily out of the country etc., but there should always be a good reason for application for postal or proxy votes and adequate controls on them.

  6. You are right Radostina 🙂

    Jon, here is my answer (copy from my blog):

    Indeed Jon,

    My main question remains: If a person does not pay the local taxes, does not have anything to loose, is not affected by local political decisions – why shoud (s)he vote and influence the local interest. On the other hand I agree that foreign workers should also be able to elect local representatives in their new residence countries – since their whole life is affected by the decisions and decision-makers there.

    Even more, although it’s a little bit weird, the american model of voter registration is very practical for filtering out the so called “invisible” voters.

  7. Radostina

    I can also tell you what Jovan’s words mean too 🙂
    Basically he’s recommending to you (or whoever this was addressed to) to read the blog of a friend of his. This guy has commented about the loss of Berlusconi:his nationalists made it possible for Gastarbeiter to vote in Italy and these are people, who are neither paying taxes nor do they care about what’s going on in Italy. And he paid for this mistake himself. Because these people helped Prodi win the election. Prodi is an example for a real politician. After the EU arena he went back and checked his rating home…
    Huh…my first translaion from Macedonian, i’m pretty sure i got it right though :-)) Didn’t translate word-by-word, just got the general point across

  8. Radostina

    Will paste a part of my reply to you in jef talk, as i guess a discussion will be started here too:
    Unlike you, though, I couldn’t come up with such a simple solution. I do get your point and I do agree to a really big extend, but…

    What I want to ask you is: If you take the political rights (at least the most important ones) out of the concept for citizenship, what would you have left there? Because if i am not wrong it’s the posession of certain citizenship, which gives you the rights to vote (not nationality or ethnicity) in all the cases I can think of.

    I would fully favour your idea for voting based on residence when the European citizenship finally implies full political rights. In the mean time, as long as I still suffer or enjoy (rarely the case) the consequences of the actions taken by Bulgarian politicians I would definately like to have the say – e.g. as long as I need a visa for going somewhere or working somewhere based on the mere fact that I am Bulgarian etc.

    The current situation is of course a big mess. I can give you another absurd example: i was able to take part in the Bulgarian elections from Berlin, no problem at all, but couldn’t from Sofia, as my residence is in Varna.Now how about that? But as long as we have all the different MSs persueing their own policies in this area and trying to make things even more complicated than they actually are, things won’t change.

  9. Just a quick explanation: the above comment is a Trackback from Jovan Petrov’s blog, a friend from JEF! Any clue as to what it means would be appreciated… 🙂

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