• 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
Stieg Larsson's partner slates trilogy sequel
Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson's former partner. Photo: TT

Stieg Larsson's partner slates trilogy sequel

The partner of Sweden's best-known contempory author Stieg Larsson has criticised the decision to publish a fourth installment of his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, written by another author. READ  

Ikea flat-pack shelters set to house refugees
Ikea flat-pack shelters will be delivered to refugee camps. Photo: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Ikea flat-pack shelters set to house refugees

Flat-pack shelters produced by Swedish furniture giant Ikea are set to provide temporary homes to thousands of refugees in camps around the world. READ  

Swedish PM faces rights pressure in China
Sweden's PM Stefan Löfven talks to reporters outside the Swedish Embassy in Beijing. Photo: Karin Olander/TT

Swedish PM faces rights pressure in China

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven landed in China on Friday for a two-day visit. But on the home front he has been facing pressure to push more to get human rights on the agenda when he meets with Chinese leaders. READ  

The Local Recipes
How to Make Chocolate Truffles for Easter
Chocolate Truffles. Photo: John Duxbury

How to Make Chocolate Truffles for Easter

If you are looking for a fun alternative to Easter eggs, why not try Swedish chocolate truffles. They are delicious, easy to make and kids can help you make these delightful sweets. Food writer John Duxbury shares his recipe with The Local. READ  

Homeless to 'skip' long rental queues in capital
There is a long queue for housing in Stockholm. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

Homeless to 'skip' long rental queues in capital

Some of Stockholm's homeless population are set to be offered permanent accommodation in the city centre, as part of efforts to help them reintegrate into society. But the move is a highly controversial one in the capital where there is a long queue for first hand rental contracts among tax-paying residents. READ  

Nine more jailed for Stockholm Nazi attack
Police in Kärrtorp in December 2013. Photo: TT

Nine more jailed for Stockholm Nazi attack

Prison sentences of between three and eight months have been handed down to nine men involved in a neo-Nazi demonstration in Stockholm in 2013. Swedish courts have already punished fourteen others for their role in the brutal violence. READ  

'You have to be active, that's the whole point'
Magnus Melander and Linda Krondahl of THINGS. Photo: The Local

'You have to be active, that's the whole point'

What if you took a bunch of exciting start-ups and some of Sweden's biggest companies and put them all in the same place? You would get THINGS, a brand new hub designed to fuse software and hardware and creativity with experience. The Local got an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour ahead of its launch on Thursday evening. READ  

Alcohol becoming more accepted in Sweden
More and more Swedes are going for drinks after work with friends. Friends drinking: Shutterstock

Alcohol becoming more accepted in Sweden

Swedes are renowned for being 'lagom' but a new study on the alcohol habits of the Nordic nation looks set to challenge their reputation for moderation. READ  

Sweden sees Ukrainian asylum seeker boom
The Maidan Square in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo: Gustav Sjöholm/TT

Sweden sees Ukrainian asylum seeker boom

Sweden saw a huge spike in Ukrainians seeking asylum in 2014, with nearly eight times more applicants than the previous year, according to Eurostat data analyzed by The Local. READ  

What's on in Sweden
What's on in Sweden: March 26th - April 2nd
Say Lou Lou perfoms at Debaser Medis on Friday. Photo: TT

What's on in Sweden: March 26th - April 2nd

Alternative duo Say Lou Lou present their new album in Stockholm, and a musical tour of all the great American hits translated into Swedish hits the road. Here are some tips for fun activities over the next seven days. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
How to never miss your favourite weekly features on The Local
Gallery
People-watching: March 25th
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm is the 'Boston of Europe'
National
Which words are changing in Sweden's latest dictionary?
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
Blog updates

20 March

 (The Local Sweden) »

"Greetings from Stockholm, where we spent Friday morning getting excited about the first solar eclipse to..." READ »

 

19 March

Fighting for Women & Diversity in Malmo (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"It takes one person to make noise. This is Muna Mohamud’s mantra as she strives to..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Is this house 'un-Swedish'?
National
Sweden pays tribute to victims of Germanwings Alps crash
National
Neo-Nazi activity rising in Sweden
National
How to make Swedish Waffles
Gallery
Property of the week: Torslanda - Hjuvik
National
Stray dog Arthur moves in with Swedish owners
Sponsored Article
Ten tips for succeeding as a start-up in Sweden
National
Sweden triples maximum limit at asylum centres
Gallery
People-watching: March 21st
National
Why elderly Swedes are among the world's happiest people
National
TIMELINE: Gothenburg shootings
National
Can Sweden's feminist party score success in neighbouring Norway?
National
Why Brits can't get enough of Sweden
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's solar eclipse
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Royal wedding countdown begins
National
Viking ring reveals Islamic ties
National
TIMELINE: Julian Assange sex allegations in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: March 18th
National
One in three Russian diplomats are spies, says Sweden's Security Service
National
Hitchcock opera set to hit Gothenburg stage
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Northern Lights on show across Sweden
Technology
Why Swedish pop star Robyn is pushing for more girls in tech
Gallery
Property of the week: Umeå
National
Introducing Sweden's Eurovision 2015 entry Måns Zelmerlöw
Gallery
People-watching: March 13th - 15th
National
Why have Swedish prosecutors made a U-turn in Julian Assange case?
Sponsored Article
How Sweden and India can work together
Politics
Who's the new young leader of the Christian Democrats?
Travel
Why are Swedes so obsessed with Mallorca?
Gallery
Princess Estelle celebrates her mother's name day in Stockholm
National
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Obama's anti-Semitism team heads to Stockholm and Malmö
Gallery
People-watching: March 11th
Technology
How a Swedish app is teaching children to empathize
Swedish grandparents put on disguises to snatch baby
National
Why Sweden may not be as gender equal as you think
Politics
Why does Russia blame Sweden for the crisis in Ukraine?
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen
National
Listen to the English remix of a Swedish 'genitals' song gone viral
Technology
'Swedish women are strong and ambitious'
National
Why are 11 Roma people suing the Swedish state?
Sponsored Article
Expert US tax preparation for Americans in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Stockholm job fair helps immigrant entrepreneurs
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

3,412
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