• Sweden edition
 
Interview
Why expats should vote at the Euro-elections
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt casts his vote at the last EU elections in 2009. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/Scanpix

Why expats should vote at the Euro-elections

Published: 20 Mar 2014 16:36 GMT+01:00
Updated: 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
National
Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Summer has come to a definite end in Kiruna as residents of the northern town were greeted with a blanket of snow on Sunday morning. READ  

Elections 2014
Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart
Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. Photo: Leo Sellén/TT

Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart

Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has said that the election success of the Sweden Democrats is a "slap" in the face for the Stockholm establishment. READ  

National
Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis
Somali nationals taking part in a demonstration against deportations in Stockholm. File photo:Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/ TT

Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis

Three young men in southern Sweden suspected of attacking Somali refugees with stones and screaming "sieg heil" have been indicted on charges of racial agitation. READ  

National
Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Sweden is set to buck the European trend of rising air prices with fares expected to drop next year according to a new report. READ  

National
Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune
Eric Westerberg's homemade submarine Isabelle. Photo: PS.nu

Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune

A Swedish submarine enthusiast who spent over 3,500 hours making his own vessel has sold his prized possession for 705,000 kronor ($98,500) in an online auction. READ  

National
Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Police in northern Sweden have been reported to the Equality Ombudsman for describing a wanted suspect as having a "Roma appearance." READ  

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes
A political career for Zlatan? Some fans seem to want to see that. Photo: Peter Dejong/TT

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes

The Bilderberg Group, the Satanic Initiative and Adolf Hitler all received votes in Sweden’s general election, according to a list released by the country’s electoral authority. READ  

Sport
Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games
The Swedish team in action. Photo: TT

Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games

Sweden's capital has missed out on a chance to host any Euro 2020 games, with Copenhagen the only Scandinavian city among the thirteen winning locations. READ  

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests
Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Uppsala, is the first woman to head the Swedish church. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests

A Swedish priest has been fired after telling his congregation that people who support female priests would be rejected by God - despite the fact that his own church is led by a woman. READ  

Analysis
Women set to dominate top post-election jobs
Margot Wallström (right) could become Stefan Löfven's new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo: TT

Women set to dominate top post-election jobs

Sweden could soon get a female Foreign Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt's ousted Moderate Party is preparing for its first woman leader and the grandmother of actor Hugh Grant's son is being tipped as Parliament's next Speaker. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
The 'black gold' of Sweden's west coast.
National
West Sweden prepares for the 2014 lobster premiere
Society
What's on in Sweden
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Gallery
Property of the week - Eskilstuna
Blog updates

20 September

How a Frog Can Save the Environment (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"What we do we imagine when we think of children enjoying nature? Perhaps it’s fishing, marveling at lightning bugs on a muggy July day or blowing on the wispy petals of a dandelion to make a special wish. But perhaps most iconic of the playful innocence in childhood is hopping after and trying to catch..." READ »

 

19 September

Editor’s blog (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday readers! It sure has been a exciting week in Sweden, where we’re set to get a new Prime Minister after Fredrik Reinfeldt stepped down following Sunday’s elections. The Local blogged live from the key political gatherings across Stockholm. Why not re-visit the action by taking a look at our photos, tweets, videos and analysis? Since the..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Politics
Green Party wants 'better world' for kids
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
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

867
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
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:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN