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VOTING

Which Spanish elections can foreigners vote in?

Can you vote in Spanish elections if you aren’t Spanish? The short answer is yes, although it depends on factors such as your nationality and residency status.

Voting in Spain
Voting rights in Spain. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

EU citizens

EU citizens living in Spain can vote in local and European elections, and can even be elected as mayors and local councilors. EU citizens who live in another EU member state can vote or stand or run in local and European elections across the block, but cannot vote in national or general elections.

This means that any EU citizen resident in Spain may vote in local or European elections, provided they are registered on the population census and have signed the appropriate voting paperwork.

Non-EU citizens

Generally speaking, if you’re a non-EU citizen, you cannot vote in elections in Spain or in the EU. However, according to Spain’s National Statistic Institute (INE), Spain does have bilateral agreements with Norway, Iceland, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand, Peru, Paraguay, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and now the UK. 

British citizens

There has been some confusion and misinformation regarding the voting rights of British citizens in Spain following Brexit. According to Spanish government guidelines, Spain and the UK have an agreement on mutual recognition of the right to vote and stand in local elections.

British citizens residing in Spain are still entitled to vote and stand for municipal elections in Spain under similar conditions as they had been able to when still European citizens.

READ MORE: Spain enshrines in law voting rights for UK residents in local elections

Following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, however, British citizens now do not have the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament, and still can’t vote in national/general elections.

Interestingly, while many might think this is somewhat of a bespoke arrangement for Brits, in reality, it isn’t, it’s similar to the bilateral agreements Spain has with the countries mentioned above. 

Americans

Like most other non-EU citizens from countries that Spain does not have special agreements with, Americans cannot vote in municipal, European or general Spanish elections.

The only way that American residents living in Spain would be able to vote is if they have lived in Spain legally for 10 years and take their Spanish citizenship test.

READ ALSO – Quiz: Can you pass the Spanish citizenship test?

How to register to vote in Spain

Only people included on the padrón municipal at the local town hall may vote. To be included on the register, visit your local ayuntamiento with the following documents:

  • your passport
  • proof of address (you can use a utility bills or rental contract or similar)
  • a completed registration form known as a volante de empadronamiento.

You can access the registration form via your local city or town hall website.

The process is free, and once you are registered you should visit the ayuntamiento again to declare your desire to vote. Just being on the register does not grant you voting rights, so you must actively declare in order to be included on the electoral roll.

What if I was born in Spain to foreign parents?

According to Spain’s civil code, in order to be granted Spanish citizenship one parent must have citizenship – or both parents must be stateless – at the time of your birth, regardless of whether or not you were born in Spain. 

This means that you do not have Spanish citizenship or the right to vote in general elections just because you were born here. 

Legally speaking, in Spain the rules are on basis of jus sanguinis (Latin for right of blood), rather than jus soli (Latin for right of the soil) when it comes to citizenship and voting rights.

READ ALSO: How children born in Spain to foreign parents can obtain Spanish nationality

This is a surprisingly common problem in Spain: according to figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) collected in the 2018 Immigration Report over 500,000 people in Spain do not have Spanish citizenship despite being born in the country.

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For members

CATALONIA

Why Catalan separatists are in crisis five years after independence vote

The ill-fated referendum of October 1st 2017 unleashed a political crisis from which the separatists have never recovered, and on the eve of the anniversary, Catalonia's pro-independence coalition is at the point of collapse.

Why Catalan separatists are in crisis five years after independence vote

Josep Lluis Rodríguez has not given up hope of an independent Catalonia. But five years after a banned referendum, he no longer expects anything from the deeply divided separatist leaders in Barcelona.

“Of course there is frustration and anger, because they didn’t do what they should have done,” the 62-year-old former company boss told AFP of the leaders who failed to make good on their separatist promises.

“It’s clear they are no longer openly interested in independence,” he said, standing outside the church in Arenys de Munt just north of Barcelona.

Many Catalan independence flags can be seen fluttering from balconies along the main street in Arenys de Munt, a town of of 9,000 residents which was the first place to hold a symbolic referendum on independence in 2009.

Hundreds of municipalities followed suit, driving a groundswell of pro-independence activism which would reach its climax in the events of October 2017 under the regional government of Carles Puigdemont.

Despite being banned by the Spanish courts, the 2017 referendum organised by the separatist government went ahead but descended into chaos as police moved in to stop it, sparking confrontations marred by violence.

“October 1st was when civil society really came out en masse,” catching the separatist parties by surprise who had not expected such a huge mobilisation in response to their moves towards independence, Rodríguez said.

“It was only later that we realised that they didn’t have a concrete plan, nor structures in place (for achieving independence),” said Rodriguez, an activist with the ANC, the region’s biggest grassroots separatist movement.

Despite the police crackdown, the fact the referendum took place at all was “a great victory for the Catalans”, he said.

And to mark the anniversary this Saturday, he will attend a demonstration in Barcelona bent on securing a new referendum.

“We’re organised and when the time comes, we will mobilise.”

Divided and squabbling

The results of the October 2017 referendum were never independently corroborated, and weeks of confusion followed, culminating in a short-lived symbolic declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament.

That proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, with Madrid sacking the Catalan government, suspending the region’s autonomy and putting its leaders on trial as it struggled to handle Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Despite passions running high over independence, the region itself remains divided, with only 41 percent in favour of separation while 52 percent want to remain in Spain, the latest survey suggested.

But it’s a far cry from the 49 percent who wanted to break away in the October 2017 poll.

Last year, the separatists again won a majority in the regional elections and managed to cobble together a fragile coalition grouping the left-wing ERC and hardline JxC.

But they are sharply at odds over how to achieve independence, with ERC backing a negotiated strategy via dialogue with Madrid, while JxC prefers a confrontational approach given that Spain has ruled out any new referendum.

“The political deadlock is ongoing, the Catalan government is divided and every day they attack each other in the press over a thousand things,” said Joan Botella, a political scientist at Barcelona’s Autonomous University.

“Nobody is suggesting a way forward or how to resolve the conflict.”

Demonstrators hold a banner reading “52%, why the hell did we vote for you ?” and wave Catalan pro-independence “Estelada” flags during a protest marking the “Diada”, the national day of Catalonia, in Barcelona on September 11th 2022. The protest coincides with Catalonia’s national day, or “Diada”, which commemorates the 1714 fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession and the region’s subsequent loss of institutions. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

‘Won’t happen in my lifetime’

Fed up with the impasse, the ANC called people onto the streets for the annual “Diada” march on September 11th with a rallying cry denouncing the politicians and insisting “only the people and civil society can achieve independence”.

The powerful movement has been openly critical of the Catalan government’s dialogue with Madrid, and this year its leader Pere Aragones did not attend the rally.

Police said 150,000 people turned out for the event, the lowest figure in a decade — without counting the two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People feel cheated and frustrated but it doesn’t mean they will stop backing independence,” said Josep Sánchez, mayor of Arenys de Munt, standing next to a small monument by the town hall marking the 2017 referendum.

But shopkeeper Magda Artigas has lost any hope of seeing the emergence of an independent Catalan republic, despite voting for one in successive referendums in 2009, 2014 and 2017.

“I’m already 64, it won’t happen in my lifetime,” she said with a sad smile.

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