Voting right for foreigners in Europe: a few examples

Voting right for foreigners in Europe: a few examples


François Hollande declared that after the local elections he would submit a text regarding foreigners’ voting rights. There has been great progress on the question in other European countries, but is still under debate in France.

Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Benelux ahead of their time

In regards to foreigners’ right of vote, several European countries stand out from others. First of all, Ireland has been a pioneer. Foreigners have the same rights as nationals when it comes to voting in local elections. This was established in the municipal elections of 1963. In Sweden and Denmark, except for Irish and Norwegian citizens who have the same right as nationals, other foreigners can vote for local elections after three and four years of residence respectively.

Other countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have already passed laws allowing foreigners’ right to vote without any condition of reciprocity. Foreigners residing in the country for at least five years can indeed vote in local elections. The Netherlands is amongst the first country to have granted the right of vote for municipal elections in 1986.

Reciprocity in Spain and Portugal

It is also important to stress that some European countries give substantial importance to the principal of reciprocity regarding the right to vote. It is a legal principle that allows the application of various legal effects, when foreign countries also accept these effects. This is the case for nations such as Spain or Portugal.

A causal link between the right to vote and foreigners’ eligibility

Apart from the case of Belgium, where residents of a municipality have the right to vote but cannot be elected, we find that a certain type of reasoning is globally respected. The countries already mentioned apply, albeit with certain slight differences, the same conditions for the right to vote as the right to stand for election. In the case of Luxembourg, a foreigner must reside for five years in the country; in addition, he or she must reside for six months in the municipality in order to stand for election.

The case of Switzerland

In Switzerland, the conditions for the right to vote and to stand for election are different depending on the canton, with differences ranging from one to five years’ residence. However, foreigners have the right to vote in all cantons.

To conclude, numerous countries have granted voting rights to foreigners. Yet founding members of the European Union like Italy, Germany and France do not grant these rights under any condition whatsoever. It remains to be seen whose example France will follow after the local elections of 2014.

Teddy Ambroise