May’s European elections may be three months away, but for those who are yet to register to vote, this week may be their final chance to make sure they get their hands on a ballot paper. Like the voting itself, which starts in some countries on 22 May but is staggered across the following three days, each country has its own national deadline to register to vote. People living in France or Spain who are not already on the electoral register have already missed the boat. Citizens living in Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg have less than 48 hours to meet the deadline of 28 February. An estimated 8 million Europeans of voting age live outside the country they were born in, roughly equivalent to the entire population of Austria. With 2.2 million and 1.9 million respectively, Germany and the UK have more than half of the EU’s expat community, followed by Spain and Italy. With over 600,000 non-national EU citizens, however, Belgium has the largest number of expats as a proportion of its population. Registrations by EU citizens to vote in their country of residence rather than origin have doubled in the past twenty years, from 5.9 percent in 1994 to 11.6 percent in 2009, but expats are surprisingly reluctant to exercise their right to vote.
Around 10 percent of EU citizens living in another EU country had taken advantage of their right to vote and stand in local elections, according to a 2012 report by the European Commission.
Those working in and around the EU institutions are scarcely more likely to turn out to vote. A survey of 9,000 EU expats by the Brussels-Europe Liaison Office in July 2013 found that just 14 percent had voted in the previous year’s municipal elections.
Moreover, some countries make it easier than others. Fourteen EU countries – Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden – automatically include all residents, including non-national EU citizens, on the electoral rolls when they register as a resident.
For other countries, registering to vote can either be done online or, more reliably, at the local town hall.