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Brussels parliament debates foreigner voting rights in regional elections

18:44 07/01/2019

The Brussels parliament is this week discussing the possibility of opening up voting rights to non-Belgians in the regional elections. While EU citizens and non-EU citizens who have lived in Belgium for five years can vote in municipal elections, only Belgians are allowed to vote in regional and federal elections.

While the population in the capital-region has increased by nearly 25% over the last two decades, the population of EU citizens has exploded far beyond that – increasing by 90%. An estimated one-quarter of the capital’s residents are non-Belgian EU citizens, a huge voting base.

“Denying their voting rights is hypocritical,” said MP Olivier de Clippele (MR), a long-time defender of EU citizens’ right to vote. “On the one hand, we welcome the status of being the capital of Europe and the economic benefits that come along with it, but, on the other hand, we deny these citizens the right to take part in the running of the region.”

Only in Brussels

Should the parliament vote in favour of extending the right to vote, it would apply to Brussels’ regional elections only, not to the federal elections and not to the other regions. An expat living in Antwerp or Waterloo, for instance, would still not be allowed to vote in their own regional elections, which are coming up this May.

While the consensus has long been building to offer EU citizens living in the capital the right to vote, members of parliament are also debating the rights of non-EU citizens and foreign students. “Brussels is a micro-laboratory of the European project,” said de Clippele. “It would be a shame to come to a region with two disparate sides: the Brussels of Schuman on one side, and the rest of the city on the other.”

Very few countries allow non-nationals to vote in elections at a higher level than municipal. Denmark and Norway are two, allowing foreigners to vote in regional elections.

If the Brussels parliament were to vote in favour of allowing non-Belgians to vote at the regional level, it would have to be approved by the federal parliament. The chances of that happening before the next elections are slim to none.

Written by Lisa Bradshaw