Local authorities in Brussels have begun a major push to urge more non-Belgian residents to vote in upcoming municipal elections in October. More than a third of Brussels’ inhabitants are foreigners with voting rights in their local elections. But despite many of them working within the EU institutions at the heart of the Continent’s democracy, Belgium has close to the lowest voter participation rate among EU citizens in Europe. While voting is compulsory for Belgian nationals and over 90 percent go to the polls in local commune elections, the equivalent figure for non-Belgians is under 14 percent overall, and much lower in some communes.
Brussels local authorities, with the help of NGOs, think tanks and the regional government, are trying to combat this low turnout and increase registration among expats before the July 31 deadline for signing on to vote.
“Brussels is a very strong symbol of Europe. So, participation of EU citizens is a must I think,” said Emmanuel de Hemricourt, a candidate running for a seat in the Saint-Gilles communal council. “They should definitely be part of the process.”
With foreigners making up a substantial portion of the electorate in some communes — close to 50 percent in Ixelles and Etterbeek to the south of the city center, for example — expats are a potentially powerful voting bloc that is currently hardly represented.