Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why have barriers when voting for the EP?

During the last European Parliament elections in 2009 I tried to practice my democratic right and vote. But I found out the last minute that I could not.

Because while I registered myself on the electoral register in Ireland, I did not do so with the Dublin City Council's records.

I thought that being registered as a voter, would entitled me to vote both for the local and European elections that took place the same day in Ireland.

When I arrived in the poling station, they told me that I could not vote for the European elections, only for the local ones. Because I had not filled out a form declaring that I would not vote again in another country.

It is required to register in both lists, in order to vote. Once to put your name on the voters' registry of the country and a second one, to declare that you are only going to vote once during the European elections. You will have to repeat the second procedure in every European election in order to vote.

I thought that I could not vote because I had to vote for Greek MEPs only and that I was not allowed to vote for Irish ones. It seemed to me like a joke the whole thing, because I've been living in Ireland for so long and knew more about Irish political reality than the Greek one. Besides, it is what happens in Ireland that affects me directly, not in Greece.

When I contacted the responsible authorities in Brussels to complain about it, I received an e-mail from the Ombudsman saying that these kind of regulations are put in place, to prevent people voting in one country then going to vote in another country again.

So let's say that I voted over here in Ireland, then took the plane all the way down to Greece and voted again, thus placing two MEPs in the European Parliament (EP) to represent me. It doesn't sound right! I understand of course that such regulations most likely apply to people that live in neighboring countries, like Belgium and Holland.

We generally have a very low turn out in the European elections during the last past few years, so it is unlikely that anyone will make the effort in voting twice. People are simply either not interested, nor convinced that it will make any difference.

In some countries the turn out has been as low as between 20-30 % of the eligible voters. Instead of trying our best to bring people to the poles and increase their interest for the elections, we are placing more red tape and restrictions.

Why put so much legislation into these elections, while it should be as easy as the national ones. Just register and you can vote. We could harmonize our voters' records and once you move in another country and register there to vote, your records could be moved with you in your new country of residence.

Of course there are other things that Europe and EU must solve first than linking their electoral records, to re-enact the interest of the voters for the EP elections.

Better and fairer media coverage of news coming out from Brussels for example. Citizens rarely see any broadcasting or updates directly from the EP, while usually they receive bad news about new EU regulations coming from there.

But at least we could make it easier for citizens that live in another EU country to vote, but are caught up and confused in all the paper work and typicality. When voting for the EP, I do so for the betterment of Europe and to promote my interests according my everyday reality in the country that I live.

Generally we should re-engage the EU citizens' interests for the European Elections, by perhaps reassuring them that there is a real benefit. It is in their interests to have a functioning EP, that it is working for them and it promoting their interests.

Also we could educate our youth during the last year at school and before becoming full citizens, about their rights as voters in national and European elections. Everything I have learned so far, I did so by doing hours of research, contacting the authorities, being hours on line searching different EU portals on issues like this.

The information I gathered was because of my own initiative, while it should be more accessible to our young people via our educational systems.

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