The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) has called for voting rights to be extended to all European citizens for all elections in the country where they reside.
Presently, if a European Union (EU) citizen resides in another EU member country he or she can only vote in local elections. CEMR is pushing both the EU and member states to amend their laws, as part of its 25 point plan to ‘revive the European project’ and reconnect with citizens, as outlined during its conference on citizenship and twinning, held in Rome.
“The gap between citizens and their political representatives is growing everywhere in the continent,” Anders Knape, Executive President of CEMR, said before the 300 participants gathered from 30 countries. “Europe is being put under pressure. As local governments closest to citizens we are witnessing this everyday. This forces us to be more efficient, creative and innovative.”
Many concede the change in voting laws will take time, however some organisations have taken a lead by becoming more innovative in the way they are connecting with citizens. Debating Europe was launched in 2011 with a simple idea: citizens provide questions which are then taken by Debating Europe to the relevant people in power.
“Nine hundred policy makers, six prime ministers and most of the European Commissioners, as well as large chunks of the European Parliament have answered the 35,000 questions we received,” explained Adam Nyman, Director of Debating Europe. “The big indicators are that people want to be involved but the credible tools are lacking.”
Anomalies also still remain, particularly in the enshrined right of the freedom of movement between one EU country and another. Since the financial crisis began many citizens have been forced to move to another EU country to look for work, often becoming entangled in residency and social security issues.
“Nearly 14 million EU citizens live in another EU country,” said Assya Kavrakova, Director of the European Citizen Action Service. “From our 20,000 enquiries we receive a year we have collected a huge database on what the problems are with free movement. One example is that in Italy, to operate a car sharing scheme you must have an Italian licence. This should not be the case.”
Awards were later presented to those municipalities and organisations that have taken a lead in reconnecting with citizens. The Gianfranco Martini Award, who himself was one of the initiators of Local Democracy Agencies, was awarded to ‘Cities for you, cities for Europe (CT4EU)’ from Strassbourg, France, ‘Festival of Europe’ L’Association Colours of Europe, France, and ‘Apprendre Comenius’, Longueau, France.