EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?

Non-EU nationals living in Europe don't have many voting rights but some countries do allow them to cast a ballot in local elections. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?
Where in Europe can foreigners cast a ballot in local elections? (Photo by LAURA BOUSHNAK / AFP)

In December 2021 the New York City Council passed a law granting local voting rights to non-USA citizens with permanent residence (the “green card”) or a valid work authorisation, starting from 2023. 

Whether the decision will become reality is still in question, as the law is being challenged in the Supreme Court. But for the time being, New York joins Chicago, San Francisco and some other US municipalities allowing foreign nationals to vote. 

As this happens in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, what is the situation in Europe? The answer is, “it’s complicated”.

The general principle is that voting rights are based on citizenship and each country makes its own rules. When electoral rights are granted to non-nationals, these are usually limited to local elections and do not extend to national ones. So neither EU nationals or non-EU citizens are able to vote for example in French presidential elections or German parliamentary elections, unless of course they have taken citizenship in those countries.

Common arrangements are established at the European Union level for EU citizens who move to other member states. They can vote in municipal elections in the country where they live and can choose to vote in the host country or at home for the election of the European Parliament.

In addition, some EU countries have signed other regional or bilateral agreements that guarantee voting rights to non-nationals. 

So where can non-EU citizens vote in the European Union? This is where things stand in the EU and in particular in the nine European countries covered by The Local.

The Nordics

In addition to EU citizens, Denmark allows all non-nationals to vote in local elections as long as they have at least four years of residence. 

Sweden, Finland and Norway (which is not part of the EU) have similar rules, but in Sweden and Norway the residency requirement is three years and in Finland it is two years on the 51st day before the election.

Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland also mutually guarantee the right to vote for municipal and regional councils as part of the Nordic Passport Union. 

Spain’s bilateral agreements

Another country that grants municipal voting rights to some citizens beyond the EU is Spain. Madrid has signed bilateral agreements with Norway, Iceland, the UK, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand, Peru, Paraguay, South Korea and Trinidad y Tobago. The residency requirement is set in each agreement.

Other EU countries that grant local voting rights to non-EU citizens are Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia. Again, each country has its own residency requirements. 

Portugal has agreements on voting rights in local elections with Brazil, Cape Verde, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, as well as with the UK for citizens who were living in the country before Brexit. Some Brazilian residents have full voting rights in Portugal.

Ongoing debates

Austria, France, Germany and Italy do not allow non-EU citizens to take part in local elections, although the issue has been debated in recent years. This would require constitutional changes, however. 

In Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, foreign nationals do not have the right to vote at federal level but they can participate in some cantonal and communal elections. Information on the political rights of non-Swiss citizens is available from this map on the Swiss Confederation website.

A special situation concerns UK citizens in the EU, who have lost the automatic right to vote in municipal elections when the country left the bloc. They can still vote, however, where this is allowed to non-EU citizens and the British government has negotiated bilateral agreements on local voting rights with Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Poland. 

But do foreigners bother voting? 

Having the right to vote, however, does not necessarily mean exercising it. The European Commission has found that electoral participation of EU citizens living in other EU countries is below average. 

Among the difficulties there are a lack of awareness about voting rights, the sometimes burdensome registration requirements, the lack of familiarity with the voting system or with local politics, as well as language problems.

In November the Commission proposed changes to current rules asking member states to better inform EU citizens about their rights and make information available in at least one other language. 

The ECIT Foundation, a group working on EU citizenship in Brussels, said the Commission could be more ambitious. The group requested in particular the creation of “dedicated helpdesk” for EU citizens moving across borders to “proactively engage with electoral rights before, during and after elections to maintain a constant engagement of electoral participation.”

ECIT Founder Tony Venables noted that, in some countries, the extension of voting rights to EU nationals has led to the inclusion of non-EU citizens too and better information about elections is likely to benefit also non-EU citizens. 

The ECIT Foundation is among the organisations behind the European citizens initiative “Voters without borders” which is calling on the EU to grant full political rights to EU citizens moving around the bloc. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK. 

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Five maps to understand the French parliamentary election

From political deadlock to far-right gains, here are the essential maps you need to understand what happened in France's 2022 parliamentary elections.

Five maps to understand the French parliamentary election

Almost two months after Emmanuel Macron won his re-election campaign – the first French president to do so in France in almost twenty years – the French people have voted not to give him an absolute majority in parliament.

Instead, opposition groups like La Nupes (the leftist coalition) and Rassemblement National (the far-right party led by Marine Le Pen) consolidated large blocs in parliament, enough to make the next five years very complicated for Emmanuel Macron.

Here are the maps you need to visualise what happened in France’s parliamentary elections.

The big picture

This map shows an overall picture of which parties won which districts across France.

The president’s centrist coalition, Ensemble (in yellow), has a lot of the country’s west coast of the country to thank for its victories, with regions like Brittany, Pays de la Loire, and Nouvelle Aquitaine providing support for the president’s party. 

Elsewhere the picture is more fragmented with leftist alliance Nupes (in red), far-right Rassemblement National (dark blue) and centre-right Les Républicains (light blue) all picking up seats around the country, although the far right did well all along the Mediterranean coast. 

Macron misery

Nevertheless, the picture for the sitting president is considerably less cheery than it was in 2017.

Though the president’s centrist coalition will still be the largest group in parliament, it has lost 105 deputés (MPs) in the last five years.

A significant portion left the party or resigned from their positions in the early days of Macron’s first term, while a large chunk lost their seats to candidates from the Rassemblement Nationale and Nupes in Sunday’s election.

Health minister Brigitte Bourguignon, maritime minister Justine Benin and environment minister Amélie de Montchalin were among the victims in Sunday, as well as party faithful and current president of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand and former interior minister Christophe Castaner. Ex education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer had been knocked out in the first round.

Left alliance

Four leftist parties – the hard left La France Insoumise (LFI), the centre left Parti Socialiste (PS), the Greens (EELV) and the Communists  (PCF) – came together in this election to form a coalition known as La Nupes (Nouvelle Union populaire, écologique et sociale) and together they won 133 seats, making it the second largest group in the parliament.

In the previous government, the four parties of the left only occupied 60 seats between them, so this represents a significant gain when compared to 2017.

But this doesn’t represent a particular shift to the left – the percentage of people voting for La Nupes in the first round in 2022 was 25.78 percent – only a fraction higher (25.38 percent) than the combined result of the four parties of La Nupes in 2017. However, by forming the pre-election pact the leftist parties agreed not to stand candidates against each other, and therefore turned their vote share into a larger number of seats in parliament. 

This map shows which factions within the leftist coalition won parliamentary seats, and where they were successful. It remains to be seen how well the coalition will be maintained in the coming months, as the parties hold differing perspectives on key issues.

The rise of the far-right

Shocking pollsters and election experts alike, France’s far-right party, Le Rassemblement Nationale (RN), won 89 seats in parliament.

Previously, the party only won eight in 2017. It represents a historic record for the far-right in France, and an encroaching change for France’s traditional political geography, where the south of the country once represented a stronghold for the left.

The RN is now the largest single-party opposition bloc in France’s parliament.

The real winner: abstention

Over half of French people – about 54.77 percent – did not participate in the second round of the parliamentary elections.

Early analysis shows that age and household income played a role in who voted and who did not: only 29 percent of 18-24 year olds and 36 percent of people living in a household with a total income of less than €1,200 per month went to the polls. 

And finally . . . Zemmour

The below map shows the total number of seats gained by extreme right TV pundit-turned politician Eric Zemmour – a big, fat zero.

Zemmour’s Reconquête and his party did not gain a single seat and all its candidates – including Zemmour himself – were knocked out in the first round.

His total vote share was just four percent, falling from seven percent in the presidential elections in April.