MEPs who represent "foreign" fields
For the last 15 years people who live in foreign countries have been able to vote in that country in local and European elections. The numbers who take part in the latter have been growing and a few MEPs have been elected for countries other than their own.
However, the number of "foreign" voters has grown from 5.9% in 1994 to 12% in 2004, due in part to more people moving around Europe. In the European elections in 2004 there were just 57 candidates out of 8974 candidates standing in a country other that there own.
We spoke to the four who were elected about their reasons for standing and their experiences
Why did you decide to stand as a candidate in a country other than your own?
Daniel Strož, (a Czech MEP for the leftist GUE/NGL group): The answer is simple. Originally I was a citizen of the Czech Republic. After the events in 1968 I moved to Germany, where I worked as an exiled journalist, publicist and publisher, which led to my Czechoslovak citizenship being rescinded. After the break up of the Soviet bloc in 1989 I came back to the Czech Republic as a "foreigner with permanent residency" and continued my political life.
Ari Vatanen (EPP-ED, former Finnish world rally champion elected in France in 2004): One does not decide these kinds of things - life has brought me here. Life is all about bridge building, and now I have a slightly bigger hammer in my hand.
Does the fact of being elected by a country of which you are not a national affect your parliamentary work?
Willem Schuth (Liberal, ALDE, elected in 2004, representing Germany): Since I still hold my Dutch passport I cannot see any impact to my parliamentary work. I feel at home in both cultures. This is also of great benefit for my constituency, as the Bundesland of Lower-Saxony borders the Netherlands.
Daniel Strož: I have the feeling, that the citizens of the Czech Republic...appreciate my political experience gained during almost a quarter century in Western European. The fact that I cooperate closely with my German colleagues - not only with those from my own political group - I consider this as self-evident.
Monica Frassoni (Greens co-chair, Italian, elected in Belgium in 1999 and in Italy in 2004): I worked as an expert in constitutional affairs before being elected and after I got elected I went on dealing mostly with the European constitution. I have always considered it to be real added value that an MEP can work in many EU countries with the same legitimacy. Unfortunately this feeling is not very common among MEPs.
When people live abroad, few of them bother to vote, why is this?
Willem Schuth: People living in another EU country tend to be not very aware of national politics as the main reason for moving is usually job-related. We need to speed up political integration. Political parties could open up more to EU citizens living in their country.
Ari Vatanen: The low turnout in the elections is due to laziness and lack of awareness of voting possibilities. Standing as a candidate in another country is nearly impossible because politicians want to retain their own seat and therefore foreigners are seen as "thieves" instead of useful messengers.
Monica Frassoni: I believe it is a question of information, of interest and knowledge of the political life in the host country as well as of the lack of consciousness of the "European" value of the EP. But I believe that the choice for a citizen to choose where to vote should be kept for EU elections where the issue of a territorial link with the country...is less stringent than for elections at local or national level.