Have British and other non-EU expats just lost their right to vote in municipal elections?

british right to vote in EU elections after brexit

There’s a big fuss going on in expat circles (or at the very least, there should be) about a news item saying that the European Court of Justice has ruled on a case in France regarding the remaining voting rights of the British residents living in the EU.

The ECJ ruled last Thursday that the British, being non EU-members following Brexit, have no voting rights within the block.

At El País we read: ‘The EU justice rules that British residents have lost European citizenship with Brexit. The ECJ clarifies that UK citizens cannot vote or be elected in municipal elections’.

In Spain, there are some bilateral agreements allowing votes in municipal elections for a number of countries. These include several Latin American states (but not all), plus Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, South Korea and – for some impenetrable reason – Trinidad & Tobago. Following the ruling of the ECJ, all of those nationals would also lose their right to vote in local elections.

With Brexit, the Brits lost their vote in the European elections (not that any continental MEP was ever going to speak for the 1,000,000 or so Brits living in Europe – while the British MEPs ignored us completely), but, we were assured, we would not only keep our vote in local (‘municipal’) elections, but would be able to continue to run as a candidate.

Indeed, despite the fact that most foreign residents don’t tune in to their local municipality, there are a modest number of foreign and even a few Brit councillors here and there in Spain.

Now it would follow that, if the ECJ authority takes precedence over any bilateral arrangement, that all non-EU foreigners – not just Brits – would lose whatever modest suffrage that they had enjoyed since 1999 (the first municipal elections in Spain where foreign EU citizens, then including Brits, could vote). In all, with the South Americans added in, at least a million votes would be removed from the ballot-boxes.
The problem is obvious. If the town hall must choose discrepancies or squabbles between voters and non-voters, it’s clear which way they will go. Why waste time on people who can’t vote for you – or indeed, against you?

The question is whether this is a storm in a tea-cup, or the future European policy. The British Embassy in Madrid says that ‘This judgement does not affect UK nationals’ right to vote and stand in local elections in Spain. These are provided by the bilateral agreement between the UK and Spain, which allows UK nationals who have lived in Spain for more than three years to vote and stand in local elections’.

The next local elections will be held in May 2023. We need to know: will we have the vote?
Now we need to hear from the Ministry of the Interior.

To be sure – It’s likely that nothing much will come of this – unless (and until) Vox gets into power.

Lenox Napier lives in Almería and writes about life in Spain at the Spanish Shilling and about Spanish politics and the economy for subscribers to his weekly email newsletter Business Over Tapas. Business Over Tapas is a key weekly newsletter about Spain – at around 4,000 words – sent out by subscription for just 60€ per year. You can subscribe here to stay well informed of Spanish current events.

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