Saturday, 12 August 2017

No taxation without representation

That’s a political philosophy that few can disagree with (although its opposite does not and should hold true).  Yet the right of EU citizens to work, reside and travel in other EU states has resulted in a huge anomaly, where there is a very large gap between the EU’s  guarantee of social and economic rights and individual Member States’ vastly different interpretations of citizens’ (and non-citizen’s) political rights.

According to Eurostat there are some 16 million EU citizens living in EU countries other than the one of which they are a citizen.  16 million!  That’s around 3% of the population of the EU, the equivalent (roughly) of the population of the Netherlands, or more than the population of the EU’s   eight lest populous countries put together.   Let’s assume, at a conservative estimate, that 75% of these people are economically active  paying taxes in their country of residence. 

Yet to my knowledge there is not one single EU country that allows tax-paying, non-citizens, no matter how long established, to vote in its national elections.  This is a scandal.  It means that something like one in forty of the EU population is disenfranchised. 

The level of disenfranchisement may vary.  In many EU countries non-citizens are able to vote in EU, local and sometimes regional elections.  Citizens of some countries permanently retain their right to vote in their home countries.  (The French recognise that their ex-pat communities have specific interests and needs and so deserve dedicated seats in the Senate).  In others such as the UK this right is granted for a limited and somewhat arbitrary period of time (the controversial 15 year rule, which the last two Tory manifestoes have promised to abolish,  a promise that has not (yet) been delivered upon and could have made a decisive difference in  the 2016 referendum).  Germans, I understand, lose their voting rights as soon as they become ‘non-dom’.    I don’t know about the other 25 member states.

The EU seeks to harmonize economic and social rights, yet I believe this needs to be balanced by harmonising political rights, so that every EU citizen has the right to vote in all elections in one country or another.   My preference would be that people have voting rights in the country where they pay taxes (after say a certain qualifying period). ( Again this would have had a profound effect on the 2106 UK referendum).  But failing that they should retain their voting rights in their home countries.

The current situation represents a fundamental breach of human rights.  Yet no-one is talking about it.  And I think it is time we opened the discussion. 

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