One important question that doesn’t appear to bother too many politicians is why migrant voter turnout in Europe is so low. In the 2012 municipal elections of Finland, 20% of eligible migrants voted compared with 18.6% in 2008. This is a far cry from 59.5% and 62.2% of Finnish citizens that voted in such elections, respectively.
As we saw in the EU elections of May, the far right made important gains especially in countries like France, United Kingdom, Denmark Austria, Sweden and Greece. The low voter turnout coupled with the disenfranchisement of migrants from the political system and society in general has benefited the far right.
According to an opinion piece on euobserver by Thomas Huddleston, the low levels of voter participation and naturalization of Europe’s ever-growing immigrant population have become “the major disenfranchisement cause of our time.”
Table 1: Persons entitled to vote and those who voted by nationality in municipal elections during 1996-2012.
Source: Statistics Finland.
Some of the key issues that Huddleston points out are the following:
- There are 51 million migrants aged 15-74 in the EU, or 14% of the adult population;
- 32 million migrants are first- and 18 million are second-generation migrants;
- Two thirds of the first first-generation are not citizens of their country of residence;
- A large number of young second generation adults are not citizens in around half of the EU member states;
- Among non-EU citizens, 10 million live in EU countries (Germany, Italy, France, Greece and Austria) denying them even the right to vote in local elections;
- Far right parties in countries like Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and the UK are benefiting the most from this democratic deficit.
It’s clear why the far right and anti-immigration groups do not want to give migrants greater voting rights since such a move would undermine their power. But if we want to make the EU more inclusive, it’s clear that we are going to have to make an about-turn in voting rights to migrants.
Research finds that the electoral power of the far-right is the most important factor explaining the restrictiveness of European countries’ citizenship policies, which then has major effects on immigrants’ naturalization rates, even for high-educated and developed-world immigrants.
For those who still believe that parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS), which has far right roots, haven’t poisoned the air for migrants and polarized society should think twice. A good example is the ongoing debate on same-sex marriage in Finland. If the PS wouldn’t have won the 2011 elections and become the third-largest party in parliament, same-sex marriage would most likely have been approved a long time ago.
* The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.