Unlike most EU countries Greece does not allow its citizens abroad to vote in Greek elections. Figures vary but there are around 3-5 millions Greeks living outside of their home country concentrated in places like the U.S., U.K. and Canada. The recent Greek crisis has provoked considerable emigration with Greeks headed for other EU countries and North America. According to this site, there are about 35,000 Greeks living in France and two of them decided to fight on behalf of Greek overseas everywhere.
In 2007 two EU civil servants living in Strasbourg who are Greek citizens asked the Greek Ambassador to France to allow them to vote from France (their country of residence) in Greek parliamentary elections. The Greek ambassador said "no" because it was not practical for them to do so - no process existed to make this possible.
That led to the case Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos v. Greece. The plaintiffs argued that denying Greek expatriates the right to vote in Greece elections amounted to "disproportionate interference with the exercise of their voting rights." It appears that the Greek Constitution does indeed have a provision that allows for expatriate voting but it doesn't seem to have ever been implemented - theoretically it's possible but the mechanisms have never been put into place to make it a reality.
EU citizens living outside their hosts countries should sit up and take notice because they lost. Here is how the ECJ ruled:
The Court notably found that neither the relevant international and regional law nor the varying practices of the member States in this sphere revealed any obligation or consensus which would require States to make arrangements for the exercise of voting rights by citizens living abroad.
So if you are a citizen of France, for example, living abroad, understand that your right to vote in France is viewed as "desirable but not mandatory" from the standpoint of the EU. This is true even where that right may be enshrined in the national constitution.
"Out of country" or "overseas voting" is a really tough call. Let's be honest here - many countries and their citizens do not like this idea one bit. I've had many hostile reactions from my compatriots when they discover that, after many years abroad, I still vote in U.S. elections. I think it's fair to ask if this a good thing or not. This excellent report from the European Commission on overseas voting rights in the EU is worth reading because it not only talks about where the different member states and other countries are in conferring these right on their expatriates, it also gives some pros and cons. Here are some of the arguments in favor:
- Citizens are citizens wherever they are and should have the same rights regardless of where they live
- Overseas voting allows these citizen to participate in the "political life of the nation." Though they live abroad they still have an interest and a stake in home country politics. Voting is one way they maintain a tangible connection with the home country.
- Not allowing them to vote would be discrimination. Expatriates would be unequal to resident citizens.
- If overseas citizens lack the right to vote in their home countries and in their host countries, then they effectively have no right to vote at all, anywhere. This shuts them out of any democratic process.
And here are some of the arguments against:
- Citizens abroad may be less concerned with or even have very limited knowledge of issues in the homeland. I have absolutely no stake in American Social Security (U.S. state retirement program) so is it reasonable that I have a voice about what happens to it? There is something to that "tenuous link" argument.
- Countries that have lots of citizens abroad could see their elections skewed by overseas voters. This could happen in the U.S. in certain state elections but it could also be true of other countries that have large numbers of emigrants abroad. It is possible that their vote could change the course of home country politics.
- It may be impractical. There has to be a process for overseas voters to exercise the right to vote and some countries may simply lack the means to make it possible.
It's quite a conundrum and, frankly, as proud as I am of my King Country voter card, I can see both sides. Is this a topic on which, as member of the American Diaspora, I would be willing to negotiate? Absolutely. I don't speak here for anyone but myself but I would consider trading my U.S. voter rights for the right not to be taxed by or report my assets to the U.S. government. I'm sure some of you would violently disagree with that but I think it is an option that we could discuss.
All diaspora past, present and future rights are the result of negotiation between the home country and the "Domestic Abroad." The expatriate Greeks may have lost this round but I don't think they should give up. If this is something they really want then surely something could be arranged. And, for those of you who are fortunate enough to be citizens of countries where voting rights and even direct representation are a fait accompli, be careful. They have been given but they could be taken away and, in the case of Europe, this could happen with nary a peep of protest from the EU since it seems to be a "nice to have" and not a fundamental right.