The first European country to take away the right to vote from immigrants?
A new immigration bill was submitted to the Greek parliament for debate on 14th February. The bill that will be voted in the upcoming weeks, aims to simplify the residence permit application process and facilitate labour market access for migrants. The same document, however, abolishes the right to vote for immigrants. According to the Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis, the proposed provisions are enforcing a recent decision by the Council of State. It stipulates that the 2010 citizenship law granting greater voting rights to immigrants is unconstitutional.
Our Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) argues that the new restrictive criteria will undermine the conditions for integration in Greece, undoing most of its major advancements on integration since 2007.
A major change in Greece’s MIPEX score
Between 2007 and 2010, Greece made significant progress on political participation. It opened political opportunities for migrants that were found to be average for most MIPEX countries and following the trends in other new countries of immigration. If the envisaged provisions come into force, the political participation rights in Greece would become slightly unfavourable for immigrant integration. The abolition of the right to vote and stand for elections would lower Greece’s MIPEX score on political participation from 40 to 31 and give Greece a score on electoral rights of zero.
The new immigration bill will undo most of the Greece’s major achievements in the past few years. The country would fall below the European standards set by the 1992 Council of Europe “Convention on the participation of foreigners in public life at the local level” (ETS No. 144), which inspired the major reform that led to the adoption of Law 3838/2010.
Moreover, Greece will be the only European country on record to have abolished the right to vote for immigrants. The only such example found by Kees Groenendijk, one of Europe’s preeminent expert on migration law, was the Swiss canton of Neuchatel all the way back in 1875. Today in Europe it is very hard to find any example of a major political party advocating to disenfranchise immigrant voters, except for Denmark’s far-right Danish People’s Party, which has been advocating this position since 1981.
In contrast, according to MIPEX non-EU citizens have the right to local voting in over half the EU Member States as well as many countries of immigration around the world, from Australia and New Zealand to Japan.
Governments granting voting rights to immigrants are committed to provide equal treatment and thus better conditions for social integration of non-nationals. Letting immigrants participate in local elections also encourages naturalisation at law implementation and maintenance costs. In practice, few of the supposedly negative effects often raised in debates play out in practice – e.g. greater foreign influence, creation of ethnic parties, and radical overturn of status quo.