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