Scholarly article on topic 'The Role of Local and Regional Authorities in Applying the EU Legislation Regarding the Election Rights of European Citizens'

The Role of Local and Regional Authorities in Applying the EU Legislation Regarding the Election Rights of European Citizens Academic research paper on "Political Science"

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{"Election Rights" / Elections / "Local Authorities" / "Regional Authorities"}

Abstract of research paper on Political Science, author of scientific article — Constanţa Mătuşescu

Abstract In the context of present difficulties faced by the European Union and the majority of its member states, related to overcoming the negative effects of economic crisis, doubled by a sovereign debt crisis, maintaining the European citizen's attachment to the European project can be a rather difficult aim to achieve. The lower involvement in the democratic life, expressed through a weak presence in elections, is a worrying sign in this respect. Aware of this stake, promoting the EU citizenship and the citizen's rights, especially the EU citizens’ right to elect and to be elected at local elections and for the European Parliament, becomes a priority of the EU institutions.

Academic research paper on topic "The Role of Local and Regional Authorities in Applying the EU Legislation Regarding the Election Rights of European Citizens"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

ELSEVIER Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 81 (2013) 280 - 285

1st World Congress of Administrative & Political Sciences (ADPOL-2012)

The Role of Local and Regional Authorities in Applying the EU Legislation Regarding the Election Rights of European Citizens

Constanta Mätusescu a*

aValahia University of Targoviste, Faculty of Law and Social and Political Sciences, Gaesti str. no. 8-10, Targoviste, 130087, Romania

In the context of present difficulties faced by the European Union and the majority of its member states, related to overcoming the negative effects of economic crisis, doubled by a sovereign debt crisis, maintaining the European citizen's attachment to the European project can be a rather difficult aim to achieve. The lower involvement in the democratic life, expressed through a weak presence in elections, is a worrying sign in this respect. Aware of this stake, promoting the EU citizenship and the citizen's rights, especially the EU citizens' right to elect and to be elected at local elections and for the European Parliament, becomes a priority of the EU institutions.

© 2013 The Authors.Published byElsevier Ltd.

Selectionandpeerreviewunderthe responsibility ofProf.Dr.Andreealluzialacob. Keywords: Election Rights, Elections, Local Authorities, Regional Authorities;

1. Introduction

This work aims to identify the way in which the regional and local authorities from the member states, as "authorities found nearest to the citizens" and of which adopted decisions have a direct influence over the citizens, can contribute to the promotion of the effective exercise of the recognised right of the European citizens to participate to the local elections from the member state in which they have established their residence, and also to european elections. Based on the finding of a low enough interest to exercise voting rights deriving from European citizenship, manifested by poor attendance at elections, the paper try to argue the need to strengthen "democracy of proximity" for reconnect the Europe with its citizens. Appealing to Multi Level Governance instruments, the local echelon of this system of governance is identified as the most suitable level for the development of a "European consciousness" and promotion an active European citizenship. The paper will attempt to advance a series of measures by which sub-national authorities, in association with the European institutions and Member States, may contribute to the involvement of European citizens in the democratic life of the Union.

2. Brief overview of the electoral rights of the European citizens

At European Union level, electoral rights are recognized since the decision of choosing the European Parliament by universal direct suffrage, in 1979. Through Council Decision 76/787 (Council, 1976), the citizens of the member

* Corresponding author: Constanta Mätusescu. Tel.: +0-040-726-269460 E-mail address:


1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer review under the responsibility of Prof. Dr. Andreea Iluzia Iacob. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.06.428

states of the Union have been "de facto" invested with new rights of political representation in supranational ambit.

With the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty, voting rights were given a new meaning in the concept of "European citizenship". Institutionalization of the new legal status was a fundamental step and highly symbolic in building a European identity and a European democracy. Formalizing individual's status in the European Union, it's being drawn, through the political rights conferred, the contour of a democratic space of the European Union.

Recognized under Article 17 of the EC Treaty (ECT) to all citizens of a Member State of the European Union and considered, with the Treaty of Amsterdam, complementary to the national one, European citizenship allows citizens to participate in a more significant manner at the Communitarian building process. Article 9 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) - introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, strengthens European Citizenship, providing that "It is a citizen of the Union anyone who has the nationality of a Member State. European Union citizenship does not replace national citizenship, but it adds to it". European citizenship is therefore considered additional (not just complementary), and not a substitute for national citizenship.

Among the privileges deriving from European citizenship, the right to vote is one of the fundamental rights, together with the right of travelling freely within the borders of the Union. The citizens of the European Union member states are granted the right to not be discriminated against on grounds of nationality in voting and standing as Candidates at both municipal elections and EU Parliament Elections in the Member State of residence, when this differs from the citizens' Member State of nationality. According to art. 22 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) - which replaced, from 1 December 2009, art. 19 (1) TEC - "every citizen of the Union residing in a Member State of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections in the Member State in which he resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State." Art. 22(2) TFEU [ex Art. 19(2) TEC] then restates the very same rule with regard to EU Parliament elections. Article 22 TFEU yet provides the possibility of including derogatory dispositions when problems specific to a Member State justify this measure.

Detailed rules and derogations on exercising the right to vote and stand in local and European elections for EU citizens residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals are established by Council Directives 93/109 (Council, 1993), respectively 94/80 (Council, 1994). Providing that the exercise of voting rights in the State of residence is subsumed to the will of citizens to do so by simply filling in an official statement, the two directives establish, as general principles, that no one can vote more than once at the same election and one cannot be a candidate in more than one Member State in the same election. If an application to stand as a candidate, then, is subject to the same conditions applying to candidates who are nationals, the two Directives recognize the states the possibility to directly reserve national citizens the access to certain functions (i.e. those of local government executives). Also, exercising voting rights may be subject to special conditions, related primarily to imposing a certain minimum duration of residence, in those countries where the proportion of foreign residents is greater than 1/5 of the total voting population (Kochenov, 2009).

While recognizing the electoral rights of EU citizens beyond the borders of the State of which they are nationals is a major advance in the development of European political integration, despite the vocation of the embodied Communitarian legal instruments to prevail over contrary national provisions, there are still important differences between regulation at European level of these rights and how they are actually implemented in the Member States. National laws transposing the two EU directives vary significantly and a number of barriers subsist to the full enjoyment of electoral rights, otherwise identified in the European Commission report on the application of Directives 94/80/EC and 93/109/EC (European Commission, 2010, 2012). It appears, in practice, there is an important discrepancy between the two categories of rights on which European citizenship is mainly based - the right to freedom of movement and electoral rights. Thus, if the benefit of freedom of movement meant that, according to estimations, at this time more than 12 million people live in a member state other than that of which they are nationals, of which 8 million are of voting age (European Commission, 2012), the number of non-national EU citizens who participate actively in democratic life locally and at Union level doesn't seem to have been increased in consequence proportionately, less than 10% having voting rights as EU citizens.

3. The need of consolidating the „proximity democracy" so as to reconnect Europe with its citizens

If the European idea has never attracted a large popular membership, it yet has not been completely repudiated as long as the objectives were quite clear: economic prosperity and preserving peace. But with the advancement of the European project, with coverage of such important issues as the single currency or security, governments cannot make Europe progress "on the sly", in the semi-obscurity designed by the founding members. So, the European idea has become a "democratic stake, claiming to be explained" (Hamon & Keller, 1997). People need to know what the project to which they are called to accede is about, what are the goals and aims of it, in other words, on what must they be united. In the absence of clear explanations, distrust of all that goes beyond the national ambit amplifies. Further integration needed thus reinforcing solidarity among Member States and their peoples. Unfortunately, the development of European construction consisted rather in increasing the efficiency of the system by issuing new rules as functional as possible, but to strengthen its legitimacy, on the obtainment of citizen's political support for actions taken. The double legitimacy of the EU as a union of states and peoples, was made in a disproportionate manner in favour of the former.

Democratic deficit is a concept invoked mainly to criticize the undemocratic and inaccessible nature to the ordinary citizen of the European Union and its various bodies, mainly due to their extremely complex way of functioning. To the lack of accessibility for citizens of the Union, it adds a weak representation at European level and lack of accountability of the European Union and the main target of this concept are European institutions.

Establishment of European citizenship in order to make Europeans aware of their belonging to a large and coherent whole in which they have rights and obligations represented the starting point in trying to build European Union's own democratic space. Unfortunately, despite the efforts made to shape European citizenship, a common political consciousness, a public space or a European public opinion, political Europe is still struggling to complete, and the distance between the Union and its citizens does not appear to be decreased. Opinion polls, referenda results and turnout in the European elections shows that much of the European population is indifferent (at best), but often sceptical and sometimes hostile to the EU system. European stake is unknown to them and the institutions are too remote from their everyday realities.

The easiest way to determine the involvement of citizens in the democratic process is to analyse their participation in elections. Results show a low enough interest for exercising voting rights deriving from European citizenship (European Commission, 2012). The reasons most often given for not participating in the vote are related to perception of inability to control the democratic process and influence the policy of government.

Aware, on the one hand, of the rupture with the basis and of the stake of the rapprochement of its citizens, indispensable to the recovery of the European political project in a context of successive crises and constitutional difficulties, and on the other hand, the attachment of citizens to local authority level, European Union is targeting local tier. Local levels are introduced into the European sphere in an attempt to establish a trust climate between the Union and citizens anchored in their everyday problems. The local level becomes a European democracy development matrix of proximity by inverting the original logic, in which the European project is built from the top to the bottom and not from the base. Territorial authorities become vital players in building a European public space and those that give expression to the concepts of cohesion and communitarian solidarity.

Creating a representative body of local and regional authorities in Europe — the Committee of Regions, with the mission of anchoring local communities in the European integration process and to make Europe more accessible to citizens, associating more closely subnational entities (along with other actors such as civil society) in the definition and implementation of European policies, European Union creates a new model of governance - multi-level governance (Marks, 1992). This is how we pass from a hierarchical view of power relations, from unilateral and authoritarian logic, to a public action based on a network of actors (public and private at the same time), based on a continuous negotiation and a partnership between actors situated at different levels. In other words, a more pluralistic governance model is developed, based on the interplay of different types of political units and loyalties. There is not one, but several centres of authority, which are interrelated and operate in different territories, not necessarily clearly demarcated. Compliance, mostly voluntary, is achieved by providing incentives (Zielonka, 2007). In this system of government, local and regional authorities meet the essential role for the exchange of

information and interactions required between them, the European institutions and citizens, given that European policy has an impact increasingly more significant on daily life day of the latter, while European policies are not legitimized by population in the same way as local and national policies are. The existence of a more efficient dialogue with citizens through regional and local communities allows thus to overcome issues related to "distance" and "relevance" of the European problems for the European citizen (Committee of the Regions, 2009). The local level, as the level closest to the citizen is the echelon to which "European consciousness" must be introduced, the authorities situated at this level receiving a new task: to promote the European idea and represent an information transmission relay, both upward and downward.

The Lisbon Treaty formally establishes the trend of instrumentation of the subnational authorities for the benefit of strengthening of European democracy, of getting the Union closer to its citizens. The treaty defines for the first time the democratic foundations of the Union, which is based on three principles: the principle of democratic equality, the principle of representative democracy and the principle of participatory democracy. The complementarity between representative democracy and participatory democracy is consecrated (art. 10 and 11 of TUE) and given citizens "right to participate in the democratic life of the Union" by providing that "decisions are taken as openly and to a level as close as possible to the citizen", a reference to the requirement to respect the principle of subsidiarity. Thus participation becomes a legal citizens' right and subsidiarity becomes a pillar of participatory democracy (Committee of the Regions, 2011). The Lisbon Treaty explicitly integrated regional and local authorities in the Member States within the scope of the principle of subsidiarity, and to ensure its effectiveness, it provided new mechanisms through which subnational entities to oversee compliance.

4. Regional and local authorities, facilitators of the European conscience and of exercising an active citizenship

Several reasons come to justify identification of local echelon as the relevant level to form a true European consciousness. On the one hand, Europe is increasingly infiltrated in areas of local competencies, the policies developed at European level targeting key sectors (such as environment, education, land use planning, transport, economic development, public services and social policies) in which local governments have significant powers. On the other hand, recognizing the right of nationals of a Member State to participate in local elections in the State of residence, although these elections' stake remains purely local, the European Union gives EU citizens a means of democratic expression that allows bringing Europe nearest to the citizen. Facilitating Europeans' integration in local territories, through this tool Europe ensures that it can become more visible in the eyes of Europeans. The result is an interplay of local and European level during major electoral moments, and the legitimacy of local authorities in the eyes of the citizens allows greater responsiveness of the European message, an education of the European citizen, and awareness of the importance of the Union for citizens' daily life. Thus European Union becomes more tangible and transparent for citizens.

The Flash Eurobarometer no 292 results, publicized in October 2010, confirms the importance of information. In what European Parliament elections are concerned, citizens have once again confirmed that a clearer vision of the role of EU in their daily lives (84%) and that more information on the many programs candidates (83%) and the elections themselves (80%) would encourage them to vote.

Many measures of people information in the spirit of European citizenship can be envisaged to increase their participation in elections. Given the competencies of local authorities in education, the launch of training initiatives of forming a European citizenship, both to those of school age and to adult citizens and especially those who intend to acquire the nationality of a Member State may prove useful (otherwise a practice successfully tested in Luxembourg). In what directly concerns the unsupportive EU citizens, managing issues of free movement and residence of citizens, local authorities may spark their interest in electoral participation through specific information about their right to vote and to be elected in local elections; these measures consist of mailing individual letters or voter cards containing information on election procedures (European Commission, 2012).

Increasing the visibility of Europe for citizens is not sufficient to ensure their greater participation in the European political process. Local and regional authorities must at the same time, become a receptacle of the needs

and desires of citizens, to make these heard in Europe so that Europe could respond to them. Supranational tier communication channels available to local officials (Committee of the Regions, various consultations initiated by the European Commission, national organisms for the formulation of national positions in European affairs, etc.) allow for this to happen. Citizens can thus contribute significantly to defining EU policies that reflected their rights.

Promoting local debates on current development in the EU, which should take place with some sort of regularity, and not just strictly in electoral moments, during which the citizens be advised of European governance mechanisms may also contribute to connecting them to European realities. Public interest can be stimulated by identifying locally important issues that have a certain relevance to the Union, themes varying from one local authority to another and from one state to another, in relation to their specific needs.

Given the difficulties to support on-going communication with citizens in European issues faced by most local authorities in Member States, given insufficient material, human and financial resources, local authorities' access to European funding designed to promote active European citizenship is at the origin of remarkable results. Taking as an example the program "Europe for Citizens" set for 2007-2013 by Decision 1904/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 12th 2006's success in promoting a structured dialogue between citizens through civil society actors and the public national and local powers (European Commission, 2012) requires maintaining and even strengthening it for the next budget cycle. The program's specific objectives that are pursued on a transnational basis: bringing together people from local communities across Europe to share and exchange experiences, opinions and values; promoting action, debate and reflection related to European citizenship and democracy; bringing Europe closer to its citizens by promoting Europe's values and achievements, encouraging interaction between citizens and civil society organizations from all participating countries, contributing to intercultural dialogue and bringing to the fore both Europe's diversity and unity.

Twinning between municipalities and networking of twinned towns in order to encourage direct exchanges between European citizens are the main actions covered by the program "Europe for Citizens". The fact that approximately 1000 different organizations from European Union member states and candidate countries received grants through this program to support activities and projects (European Commission, 2012) demonstrated its potential to enable new synergies in the service of local and European alike.

5. Conclusions

Numerous initiatives have been taken by the European institutions over the past 10 years to reduce the fracture between the Union and its citizens, and important resources were mobilized in this regard. Reality shows, however, that despite the ambitions of the European Commission to create a "Partnership for Communication on Europe" (European Commission, 2008), the involvement of citizens in the democratic process through participation in European elections has never ceased to decline.

Succession of crises that the EU has crossed has shaken public confidence, and maintenance of their commitment to the European project is becoming increasingly difficult. Waning involvement in democratic life, expressed through poor attendance at elections, are, from this point of view, a worrying sign.

Among the solutions envisaged to facilitate the participation of European citizens in the democratic life of the European Union, the renewal of European citizenship from its base — the local territory, in which the citizen is anchored, deserves to be thorough and experienced. 2013, declared European Year of Citizens, and all the activities designed in this context, as the 2014 European elections approach, will undoubtedly bring this issue to European debate.


This work was supported by CNCS-UEFISCDI, project number PN II-RU, code 129, contract 28/2010.


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