• Sweden's news in English
 
almadalen_header

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
Almedalen 2015
LIVE: Sweden's political power forum - Day Five
Sweden's Green Party leader Gustav Fridolin at Almedalen. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

LIVE: Sweden's political power forum - Day Five

Environment and education are set to be top of the agenda when Sweden's Green Party leader Gustav Fridolin takes the stage tonight on day five of Almedalen - Sweden's biggest week in politics. READ  

Snake on the slither in southern Sweden
This is (probably) not the snake mentioned in the story. Photo: AP Photo/J Pat Carter

Snake on the slither in southern Sweden

A three-metre long python spotted in a popular park in Malmö remained on the loose on Thursday afternoon. READ  

Shock as Sweden slashes interest rate
Swedish kronor. Photo: TT/Jonas Ekströmer

Shock as Sweden slashes interest rate

UPDATED: Sweden’s central bank (the Riksbank) has lowered the country’s historic low interest rate even further. The key rate, the repo, now stands at minus 0.35 percent. READ  

European heatwave
Sizzling Swedes warned of heatwave sickness
Swedes enjoying warm weather in Stockholm on July 2nd 2015. Photo: TT

Sizzling Swedes warned of heatwave sickness

UPDATED: It's one of the hottest days of the year so far in Sweden, but extreme heat in the south east has got people worried about forest fires and weather-related sickness. READ  

Almedalen 2015
'If the Russians come our whole lives will change'
What's on the horizon for Gotland? Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

'If the Russians come our whole lives will change'

Recent claims that Russia rehearsed a military takeover of Gotland stirred up fear among Swedes – but how do people living here feel? The Local asked islanders what life is like in the bullseye of Sweden. READ  

Almedalen 2015 with ConnectSweden
Sweden's 'incredible' chance to connect
Photo: The Local

Sweden's 'incredible' chance to connect

Sweden's connections to the world are in the spotlight this week, as the hottest names at Almedalen gather to discuss the impact of connectivity on jobs, tourism, and relations with other countries. The Local is on the scene. READ  

Swedish firm embroiled in US antitrust lawsuit
Swedish appliances firm Electrolux has been sued. Photo: Fredrik Persson/SCANPIX

Swedish firm embroiled in US antitrust lawsuit

Swedish giant Electrolux's attempt to snap up General Electric's appliance business has been met with a lawsuit by US antitrust officials, saying the $3.3 billion deal would harm consumers. READ  

What's on in Sweden
Six hip spots to sun seek in Sweden's capital
Solstugan sun terrace in Kristineberg. Photo: Solstugan

Six hip spots to sun seek in Sweden's capital

Here's our pick of places to enjoy the warm weather that's finally made its way to the Swedish capital, along with our weekly guide to what's on in the rest of the country. READ  

Almedalen 2015
BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Four
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, speaking on Wednesday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

BLOG: Sweden's political power forum - Day Four

The nationalist Sweden Democrat party's leader Jimmie Åkesson has told his nation's biggest political conference that he wants to create a better county for children and crack down on extremism. READ  

IN PICTURES
Thousands welcome home Sweden’s heroes

Thousands welcome home Sweden’s heroes

Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården park was packed with tens of thousands of Swedish football fans on Wednesday afternoon as they welcomed the country’s Under-21 team home after their historic European Championship win in Prague. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Politics
Almedalen: The Local's guide to Sweden's power players week
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Swedes soak up sun on hottest day of year
Sport
Sweden celebrates greatest sporting victory in decades
Gallery
People-watching: July 1st
Sponsored Article
VIP Mingle at Almedalen's hottest event
Blog updates

26 June

Editor’s blog, June 26th (The Local Sweden) »

"Greetings from Stockholm, We’re about to transport our newsroom to the idyllic Swedish island of Gotland for..." READ »

 

23 June

Defending Our Interests … And Our Allies (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"This is an important week for European security, with decisions affecting Europe’s unstable Southern and Eastern..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Swede battles slug invasion
Sponsored Article
What can we learn from Swedish women's sex habits?
National
VIDEO: Is this herring tasting clip an 'insult to Sweden'?
Gallery
Property of the week: Visby, Gotland
National
Sweden set for sunniest week of year
Gallery
People-watching: June 26th-28th
Features
The Local's essential guide to who's who in Swedish politics
National
More Swedish military exercises as Russia aggression fears grow
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Travel
Why Swedish camp sites are set for a bumper summer
National
Swedish summer's really on its way (at least according to forecasters)
Gallery
People-watching: June 24th
National
Why are southern Swedes angry about becoming 'Danish' again?
Society
Lifestyle: When to catch your favourite features on The Local
National
Is Sweden one of the world's most peaceful nations?
Sponsored Article
Harstena: Travelling to Sweden's secret islands
National
One in ten Swedish cats homeless
Sponsored Article
'I constantly evolve my Swedishness'
Gallery
Property of the week: Värmdö, Stockholm
Society
Would you eat this Swedish pizza?
National
Swedish royals' dream honeymoon
National
Swedish hospital opens first centre for male rape victims
Gallery
People-watching: June 20th-21st
Photo: TT
Lifestyle
Midsummer: The Local's guide to Sweden's craziest festival
Sponsored Article
Murder, myth and magic: Travelling to the birthplace of Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: June 17th
Sponsored Article
Gallery: Life in Sweden's secret archipelago
Society
Seven alternative names for Sweden's Prince Nicolas Paul Gustaf
National
FBI returns stolen Swedish books
National
Want to smell like Zlatan?
National
Royal joy over birth of new prince
Gallery
Property of the week: Brantevik, Simrishamn
National
How racy graffiti inspired a teacher's high school sex class
Gallery
People-watching: June 12th-14th
National
As it happened: Prince Carl Philip marries Sofia Hellqvist
Technology
Is Stockholm the world's creative capital?
National
Timeline: Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
KTH President: ‘Sweden’s success is because of its size’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: New royal couple Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Features
Ten Swedish festivals to discover
Features
Ten reasons Stockholm is definitely way cooler than Copenhagen
National
VIDEO: Watch Swedish man rescue baby elk from cold creek
National
VIDEO: Have you seen this jet ski blunder at a Malmö hotel opening?
Gallery
People-watching: June 10th
National
Swedish airports launch cheeky safe sex toilet campaign
Sponsored Article
Why expat women are choosing Swedish natural birth control
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: Nine questions every expat should ask
Sponsored Article
The millionaire teacher who leads by tough love
Sponsored Article
How to change the world: Malmö to Mogadishu
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

3,229
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