• Sweden's news in English
 

Why expats should vote at the Euro-elections

Published: 20 Mar 2014 16:36 GMT+01:00

Europe - or rather the European Union - is according to some estimates responsible for up to 80 percent of the laws and regulations that govern our lives. Even if this figure is on the high side, what happens in the corridors of Brussels affects everyone in the EU’s 28 member states, and beyond.

Despite this, even ardent political nerds find it hard to get excited about European Parliament elections. Only 43 percent of the electorate across the EU bothered turning up to vote in 2009. Even in Sweden, where turnout at the last national election was an admirable 85 percent, only 45 percent of eligible Swedes used their vote in the last European elections.

The next elections are in May and Pierre Schellekens, the European Commission’s man in Stockholm, would like to change all that. Expats from other European countries are in his sights:

“There’s no group with a stronger interest to vote than expats,” he says. He insists that without the EU and institutions like the Commission and the Parliament, free movement between the countries of Europe would fall apart:

“The Nordic countries had arrangements with each other before the EU, but on a wider scale you need institutions and control.”

Schellekens, who was brought up in Antwerp and Gothenburg, has been representing the European Commission - the EU’s executive arm - in Stockholm since 2009, after years at headquarters in Brussels. He’s the Commission’s eyes and ears on the ground in Stockholm, as well as their spokesman.

Make it easier to move around

Like many Eurocrats, Schellekens has spent his life going backwards and forwards between different countries, and thinks it needs to be made easier to live and work elsewhere:

“There are problems with implementation of free movement everywhere,” he says. Even in generally efficient Sweden it’s too hard to get foreign qualifications recognized, with nurses among those having a particularly tough time. Sweden is also bad at informing its citizens about their rights as EU citizens.

Free movement has had a bad press in recent months, not least due to bad tempered debates in many countries about the arrival of often poor migrants from Romania and Bulgaria. But he rejects a link between migration and growing Euroscepticism:

“That’s not the reason, but we’ve gone through an economic crisis which has led to scepticism of political structures. There are only four member states, of which Sweden and the UK are two, in which national institutions are more trusted than the EU.”

“Trust in EU institutions has fallen, but has held up better than trust in national institutions.”

‘You can’t cherry-pick'

One of the big questions hanging over the EU right now is Britain’s future within it, with a referendum promised for after the next election, if the Conservatives win. While he won’t speculate on what would happen to British expats if the country voted to leave, he emphasizes that “the rights granted by EU directives are granted to EU citizens.” In other words, if the Brits choose to quit, there are no guarantees for the millions of expats spread around the continent.

There’s a similar message to Switzerland, where voters opted in a referendum to restrict immigration, effectively tearing up a patchwork of deals on free movement with the EU and sparking frenzied negotiations between Brussels and Bern.

“You can’t take whatever you like out of EU cooperation. There’s no cherry-picking.”

As for Sweden, Schellekens says he’s surprised that it views itself as Eurosceptic. Despite rejecting the euro and some other projects (banking union being the latest example), he says that Sweden has “a normalized debate”.

“There’s no credible political force” pushing for Sweden to quit the union, he says. As for polls showing that less than half of Swedes want to stay in the EU (a major poll last year by SOM Institute put support for staying in at 42 percent), he says this would be “seen as strong democratic support on most issues”.

But why should they care enough to vote in the European elections? After all, the big questions of taxing and spending are reserved for Sweden’s own government? Surely those who are getting excited about them are mostly seeing them as a dry run for the general election in September?

“It will partly be a national election in 28 countries,” he admits, “but there will also be a 29th campaign - the European one.”

Choose your own Commission

To mobilize voters and give a sense of this being one big European election, the main political groupings in the European parliament have for the first time appointed ‘lead candidates’, who will be the main faces of their campaigns. 

They’re big names in EU circles - former Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker for the centre-right, former parliament president Martin Schulz from Germany for the Socialists, and former Belgian PM Guy Verhoefstadt for the Liberals. The leader of the largest grouping will be put forward as next president of the European Commission.

But personalities aside, how many people have really got their heads around the often dry issues, like trade policy, for which the European Parliament has responsibility, let alone figured out which party stands for what?

“But many of the laws are not as abstract as people think. Lots of things are decided by the European Parliament that directly impact on people’s lives: rules about food safety, labour market rules, even how we switch on our televisions.”

“There’s also a principle: I prefer to participate rather than let others decide for me. If I don’t join in, I can’t complain. And if we stop using democracy, democracy will end.”

If you’re a citizen of an EU member state and live within the European Union, you have the right to vote in the European Parliament elections. If you live in another member state to that in which you’re a citizen you can vote in either place. For instance if you’re German and living in Sweden, you can opt to vote in either Germany or in Sweden. 

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swedish WW2 soldier buried 70 yrs after death
Vetlanda church. Photo: Karin Thuresson

Swedish WW2 soldier buried 70 yrs after death

A Swedish soldier has been buried 70 years after he died fighting with Finland against Soviet troops during World War Two. Remarkably, his sister was still alive to attend the service. READ  

World's first limousine snowplough for hire
Håkan Andersson's limousine snowplough. Photo: Haga Limo

World's first limousine snowplough for hire

A businessman in central Sweden is advertising what he claims is the world’s first Hummer limousine snowplough for hire on Blocket, Sweden’s version of eBay. READ  

Breastmilk drug could fight resistant bacteria

Breastmilk drug could fight resistant bacteria

Swedish researchers may have found a solution to the growing resistance to antibiotics in the most unlikely of places — breastmilk. READ  

Video
Swedish baby wins TV fame in US
A screenshot of Alma and Maja before the collision from America's Funniest Home Videos

Swedish baby wins TV fame in US

A Swedish baby and her King Charles Spaniel scored more than three million views on America’s Funniest Home Videos in just one day, after the baby's father sent a video of the then six-month-old being bowled over by the puppy. READ  

Royal couple blames tax woes on identity theft
Princess Madeleine and Chris O'Neill in December 2014. Photo: TT

Royal couple blames tax woes on identity theft

Chris O'Neill, the British-American banker married to Sweden’s Princess Madeleine, has admitted to having had problems over unpaid US taxes, explaining that he had been the victim of identity theft. READ  

Up to four subs feared in Stockholm waters
An enlarged look at the mystery sighting of a suspected submarine in the Stockholm archipelago in October. Photo: TT

Up to four subs feared in Stockholm waters

Sweden’s armed forces now estimate that as many as four submarines were operating in the Stockholm Archipelago in mid-October, the country’s Dagens Industri (DI) newspaper reported on Saturday. READ  

Sweden mulls ticket controls for jihadis
The war in Syria and Iraq has attracted many young Swedish Muslims. Photo: STRINGER/Scanpix

Sweden mulls ticket controls for jihadis

Sweden could introduce controls over airline ticket sales and border crossings as part of a new anti-terror strategy aimed at preventing citizens going abroad to fight for extremist groups. READ  

'Frozen' hanging woman died 'climbing fence'
The fence in Norrköping where the woman was found hanging. Photo: TT

'Frozen' hanging woman died 'climbing fence'

A woman found hanging dead on a fence in Norrköping, about one hour south of Stockholm, was pierced by razor-sharp spikes, but probably ended up there 'by accident', police have concluded. READ  

Sweden's first LGBT pool makes a loud splash
Sweden's first LGBT swimming pool. Photo: Sundbyberg Stad

Sweden's first LGBT pool makes a loud splash

The first swimming pool in Sweden designed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is making waves in the Swedish media, ahead of its official opening next week. READ  

Princess Madeleine 'not involved in any debt'
Princess Madeleine at the Nobel Prize ceremony in December 2014. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine 'not involved in any debt'

Sweden's royal family has strongly denied claims that Princess Madeleine's husband Chris O'Neill has debts in the US, saying the US tax authorities 'made a mistake'. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
Meet the 'beggars' buttoning up immigration critics
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden this week
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Madeleine through the years
Features
Learn Sweden's bizarre dating lingo
People-watching: January 21st - 22nd
Gallery
People-watching: January 21st - 22nd
Blog updates

23 January

Editor’s blog, January 23rd (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday from The Local’s team in Stockholm. We can’t wait for the weekend, when we’re planning..." READ »

 

14 January

Adjectives and nouns (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hi there, The other day I got a question about combining adjectives and nouns: When you have a..." READ »

 
 
 
Lifestyle
'Life as a Swedish candy-maker is sweet'
Society
Why Sweden's viral 'genital' video is getting an English remake
Gallery
IN PICTURES: January snow snaps
National
Why does Sweden's Luleå have a giant ice beaver?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Who are Sweden's richest one percent?
Business & Money
How a classic Swedish snack got a revamp for 'busy' Stockholmers
Lifestyle
The Local's top Swedish acts for 2015
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Årets Bild photography prize winners
Business & Money
'I met my Swedish man in Tokyo's first Ikea store'
Gallery
Property of the week: A cozy apartment in Bromma, Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: January 17th - 18th
Lifestyle
How to make Swedish gravad lax
Lifestyle
Four hot Swedish home design trends
National
How The Local's video on a strange Swedish sound went viral
Gallery
People-watching: January 14th
National
The Local's guide to Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Politics
Paris attacks: Knock-on effects in Sweden and across Europe
National
Swedish Muslims react to new Charlie Hebdo magazine
National
The Local talks to Sweden's Home Affairs Minister about Paris attacks
Business & Money
Will Spotify launch on stock market after users rocket?
Accelerated
Texans and Swedes to play ice instruments
Gallery
Property of the week: An 18th century mansion in Stockholm
Business & Money
'Snowboarding drew me to work in chilly Sweden'
National
Are Sweden's royals moving to London?
National
How Sweden's Charlie Hebdo rally broke a winter protest record
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Madeleine through the years
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Stockholm's 'no pants' subway day 2015
Gallery
People-watching: January 10th - 11th
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Stockholm holds Charlie Hebdo rally
National
Have you seen Sweden's viral children's 'genital' song?
National
Mother of 'Superman' victim warns of ecstasy drug trend in Sweden
National
Are wolves on the loose in the Swedish capital?
Gallery
People-watching: January 7th
National
Stockholmers discuss why they joined global Paris shooting vigils
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's reaction to Paris magazine shootings
National
The best Swedish songs of the month
National
Ten Swedes who made a lasting impact on the United States
National
The Local meets northern Sweden's frozen Roma beggars
Sponsored Article
Everything you need to know about moving to Stockholm
Sponsored Article
How to jump-start your career in southern Sweden
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

1,140
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se
Counselling and Psychotherapy in English
Sometimes living in another culture can cause stress, confusion and feelings of sadness and loneliness. Talking to a professional psychotherapist/counsellor might help you. I am a UKCP Reg. psychotherapist. My practice is in Södermalm, Stockholm.
Contact me to discuss your options