Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Danes Living in the UK Effectively Shut Out from Voting in EU Elections

As millions of EU citizens living in the UK participate in the European Parliament elections, it is not just Britons who will no longer have the ability to vote in these elections post-Brexit. Danish citizens, along with a significant number of other EU nationals who have made the UK their home, find themselves unable to cast their votes. Denmark is one of a select few among the 27 EU member states that do not permit most of their citizens to vote from outside the EU. Other countries that share this restrictive stance include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, and Ireland.

In contrast, countries such as Sweden, Poland, and France are among the 22 member states that allow their citizens to vote from outside the EU in the European Parliament elections. Thus, while the majority of EU citizens in the UK can exercise their voting rights through embassies, postal voting, e-voting, or proxy voting, a substantial number, including many Danes, will be excluded from having a say in who represents them in the European Parliament. This exclusion persists despite the fact that many of these individuals exercised their right to freedom of movement long before Brexit, with the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU ostensibly protecting their rights.

While I am pleased that many of my fellow EU citizens will have the opportunity to make their voices heard, it seems illogical that some of us are denied the right to vote for the very parliament intended to represent all EU citizens. Beyond the five countries that disenfranchise their citizens living outside the EU, other member states make voting from abroad practically challenging. Italy, for instance, requires its citizens to travel back home to vote, making it improbable for most of the half a million Italians living in the UK to participate in the elections, alongside the estimated 30,000 Danes residing here.

For Denmark, only specific groups, such as diplomats, employees stationed abroad by Danish companies, or those planning to return to Denmark within two years, are eligible to vote from outside the EU. Additionally, as a Danish citizen, you lose the right to vote in national elections for the Danish parliament upon moving abroad unless you belong to one of these specified groups.

The situation for Brontë Aurell, a fellow Dane in the UK, is particularly perplexing. Aurell, who co-founded Scandi-Kitchen in London’s West End with her Swedish husband, Jonas, is a well-known figure among Danes in the UK. She is also the author of several cookbooks and has been recognized as an ‘Exceptional Londoner’ by Mayor Sadiq Khan. Having moved to the UK in the 1990s at the age of 17, Aurell shared her frustration: “I’ve never been able to vote in any national election, ever, in my life. My husband, from just across the bridge, can vote in general elections in Sweden and EU elections. I’m trying to bring my kids up by teaching them how important it is to vote and exercise democratic rights – and yet I can’t do it myself.”

Bronte Aurell
The author pictured with Bronte Aurell (on the right) and her daughter Astrid (on the left).

In 2021, the ECIT Foundation, a Brussels-based think tank, and Voters Without Borders petitioned the European Commission to initiate infringement procedures against member states that prevent the majority of their citizens from voting abroad. The Commission responded that it lacked the authority to address national elections. Consequently, the ECIT Foundation has shifted its focus to the EU elections, preparing a legal complaint to the European Commission and exploring the possibility of legal action against any EU member state that restricts its citizens from voting in the European Parliament.

The emphasis is on EU citizens in the UK, many of whom utilized their freedom of movement before Brexit. The foundation is seeking plaintiffs from countries like Denmark and Ireland who are concerned about their disenfranchisement and willing to participate in a legal challenge. New Europeans UK, a charity dedicated to securing and improving the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons abroad, is involved in this effort. As a communications advisor for New Europeans UK, I have seen firsthand the organization’s commitment to this cause.

Dr. Ruvi Ziegler, Chair of New Europeans UK, who is aiding the ECIT Foundation with the legal challenge, stated: “In my view the divergence across the EU in relation to European Parliament elections is problematic in its own right. That is because the European Parliament is a union institution – the member states are acting on behalf of the union when they administer election processes to the European Parliament. So, when you have divergent standards for eligibility across member states it violates the principle of equality of EU citizens.”

This principle of equality is enshrined in Article 9 of the Treaty on European Union. Additionally, Article 10 stipulates that every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. However, following Brexit, the United Kingdom opted out of several EU treaties.

During the last European Parliament elections in 2019, in which the UK participated, I attempted to vote but was turned away at my local polling station in East London. I was told I needed to fill out a form declaring I would not be voting in Denmark. Despite contacting my local council in advance and receiving confirmation that I was already registered to vote, I, like many others, was denied the opportunity to participate.

According to the Electoral Commission, an estimated 1.7 million EU citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU were similarly disenfranchised, primarily due to a lack of information about required forms. This experience was a tipping point for me, especially after being excluded from voting in the Brexit referendum, leading me to join New Europeans UK as a campaigner. While the UK barred me from voting in the 2019 EU elections, it is now Denmark that is denying my right to vote in this year’s elections.

I reached out to Danes Worldwide, an organization that advocates for Danes across the globe. Their Secretary General, Michael Bach Petersen, emphasized: “All Danes abroad, including all those residing outside the EU, should of course be able to vote in European Parliament elections on an equal footing with all other EU citizens, just as they should also be able to vote in general elections in Denmark. Unfortunately, Denmark is one of the few EU countries that does not offer this option, and of course we want to change that.”

I also contacted the Danish government, but the Ministry of State referred me to the Ministry of Interior and Health, which stated they were unable to assist.

Despite this governmental impasse, the support from Danes Worldwide, the ECIT Foundation, and New Europeans UK provides hope. I am optimistic that these organizations will effectively advocate for the voting rights of Danes and other disenfranchised EU citizens in the UK and beyond. This gives me hope that by the next European Parliament elections, more inclusive voting rights will be established through political or legal means, allowing all EU citizens to have a voice in the Union’s democratic processes.