Voting rights of EU-citizens – a relevant discussion?

In the framework of the seminar “Mobility of EU citizens – an opportunity of growth?“ which is also the origin of this blog, some students of the Europa-University Viadrina organized a round table discussion with the title “Who has got something to say here? EU citizens and political participation in Germany” (Wer hat hier was zu sagen? EU-Bürger und politische Teilhabe in Deutschland).

The discussion took place on the 28th of June 2017. The participants were Anett Polzin from the newly-founded party “Demokratie in Bewegung”, Federico Quadrelli, leader of the PD Berlin, Julien Deroin, research assistant at Europa-University Viadrina and Krzysztof Ignaciuk, representative of the Polish party Razem. The moderators were Franziska Brzezicha and Lucas Hawrylak, two students from the Europa-University Viadrina. The discussion mainly dealt with the question whether EU citizens living in an EU member state different from their citizenship should be able to participate in all elections. At the moment EU citizens can vote in local elections and in the elections of the European Parliament.

After a short input from Dr. Kamila Schöll-Mazurek, the participant stated their positions concerning the participation and the voting rights of EU citizens. Quadrelli talked about his own experience with the difficulties to motivate EU citizens to participate. He said that expanding the voting rights could be a motivation for EU citizens to participate in politics. Polzin stressed the importance of political participation and claimed that there is still a lot of work left to do. Deroin emphasized the possibilities EU citizens already have while living in another EU country. Ignaciuk shared his opinion that the possibilities of integration for EU citizens are already very well developed. According to him, an extension of the voting right is not necessary.

These opening statements showed clearly that the participants opinions on the topic were divided:

Quadrelli and Polzin seemed to welcome the idea of more possible political participation for EU citizens. Deroin and Ignaciuk, however, were rather opposed to the idea of expanding the right to vote. Ignaciuk approached the discussion from a legal perspective, arguing that the German constitution would not allow such a step. Deroin argued from a point of view of political theory: Foreigners are not part of a nation.

While all of the participants had a lot to say, the discussion kept coming back to the already stated opinions. One main question was central: “Are voting rights of EU citizens a real problem that is worthy to discuss?”. With three of the participants coming from different EU countries – Quadrelli from Italy, Deroin from France and Ignaciuk from Poland – these three could draw from their own experience. Deroin and Ignaciuk did not see it a problem to not being able to vote in German elections. They said, it was enough that they were able to vote in their countries of origin and that they could become German citizens, if they wanted to vote. For Quadrelli, on the other hand, the issue was very important. For him, living in Germany, it would be important to actively participate.

When the moderators finally opened the discussions for questions from the audience, it took a more interesting turn. Some people talked about their own experiences as EU-citizens. Some supported Quadrellis opinion, others agreed with Deroin and Ignaciuk. It was, however, emphasized that even if only very few people are concerned by this problem, this should still be discussed. It is important to acknowledge minorities. As Polzin stated: “Rights are not privileges.”.

It was also stated that in the context of the discussions it is necessary to think about power structures. Polzin made it clear that the power still mostly lies with white men, who are the ones that made and still make the laws. She also stated that it is important to see that the discrimination that is present today. We do have to think about whose voices are heard and whose not.

After more than two hours of talking, the moderators ended the discussion and everyone had the possibility to continue talking with a glass of wine and some snacks.

The question of relevance remained unanswered in the end, but it was made clear – also thanks to participation of the audience – that when talking about political participation, the opinions on it are diverse and vary from person to person. This is why it is important to listen to all voices.

Author: Lina Dornblüth

Photo © Lina Dornblüth

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One thought on “Voting rights of EU-citizens – a relevant discussion?

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  1. Dear organizers,

    Thank you very much, Lina, for reporting on this interesting event. As a participant of the seminar, I was able to follow, even if only partially, the planning phase of the podium discussion. Although I am glad about the way the discussion turned out, particularly because of the audience’s participation and due to efficient moderation, I was feeling enormous discomford during the planning period of the discussion. This was not surprising; I arrived at the discussion knowing that my perspectives would not be presented. However, I believe that a fruitful discussion can only take place when based on honesty and self-reflection. Therefore, I am trying to point out some thoughts during the planning period.

    Since the seminar is constructed as a project seminar, we were working in different groups. As such, I was not involved in the organization of the podium. Such a structure is quite efficient due to effective communication within small groups. Nevertheless, talking from my personal perspective, the different groups (podium discussion, webinar, blog) unfortunately did not have sufficient opportunity to exchange ideas, thoughts and questions. Moreover, I think that critical questions and issues were insufficiently reflected upon. I believe this had grave impacts on the course. For example, I remember that we, the participants, were exchanging critical feedback about the podium planning progress. A lack of gender balance was addressed while requesting speakers. I am glad that the podium group took this feedback quite seriously. Through sharing their challenges, the group was sensitized to institutional power regarding gender inequality. Nevertheless, while equal amounts of male and female speakers were requested, the white male perspective seemed considerably dominant. This realization progress can be frustrating but increases awareness for the complicacy of truly achieving power balances. Although, the equal amount of male and female speakers is not an achievement of gender equality per se, however, this is not my current issue. While the group was desperately looking for a female position for the podium, I presented a proposal. I was truly disappointed when this proposal was denied.

    I understand gender equality, although only taking binary thinking (female and male constructions) into account, is more common in public discourses and the dominant (presumed) majority society. Still, the thinking that a Women of Color positionality will bring up only the interests of Turkish communities is a racist behavior. Moreover, excluding the Turkish community in Germany due to problematic developments within Turkey and difficult relations between Turkey and the European Union is a violent exclusion of external allocation of the individual’s interests. I strongly disagree with any argumentation that Deniz Yildirim would have misguided the discussion’s discourse. As privileged students of European Studies, we have a serious responsibility to reflect on institutional power. This can be noticeable either on abstract topics such as the politics of European integration, whether it is juristically, economically, politically or socially or it can be reproduced by our own behavior and way of thinking.

    To prevent institutional racism or any other form of discrimination I hope we can become self-reflective and learn to think from intersectional perspectives (see Crenshaw, May Ayim, Audre Lorde). I hope we can learn to ask questions, be open to feedback and hold constructive debates.

    Even if non-EU perspectives will be presented on a podium – and I hope my example is not meant with this sentence – the European Union can learn from such demands and hints. A discussion regarding political participation and voting eligibility needs be open to marginalized demands.

    However, I also should say, that I wish the podium’s content would have been designed more transparently so that the created room would have been more open to various voices. Unfortunately, the elitist election of the topic was not truly contextualized. Thus, several affected groups were barred from participation. Even as a participant, I had some challenges following all aformentioned points. However, other speaker positions were extremely dominant and misguided the audience perception. I could state my thoughts on the development of the podiums content in a more detailed way, but I guess this has been sufficient information for now.

    In conclusion, I believe that we can learn from all processes if we reflect on our own behavior and the way systems work. I want to point out that this sharing of thoughts only addresses the structural reproduction of power.

    I am happy to have the opportunity to exchange thoughts on such a platform like this blog. Thank you.

    Warm regards

    Pauline Bulin

    Like

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