Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

CES: Excluding Migrants from Political Life Must be Avoided

Zhaneta Kuyumdzhieva, trainee, November 20, 2012

In an analysis, in the beginning of the month, titled "Immigrants and Their Descendants in the Political Process", the Centre for European Studies, a think-tank of the European People's Party, draws attention to the immigrant's role in the political process of four countries: France, Germany, Spain and Lithuania. In fact, the problem the analysis brings forward is related rather with the non-participation of this group in the political processes of the host-country rather than on their active influence. If the electorate can be compared to a market, then immigrants are a new promising niche. In this case, the right-wing parties need to invest more propaganda efforts in order to win, because recent studies show that these groups have more left-wing political views, the analysis says.

There will be benefits from a possible increased focus on them from a strategic perspective as well. Potential cooperation among the European centre-right parties for greater integration of immigrant communities in the social-political processes would distinguish them from the populist and extremist political alternatives. Nominating more members of national parliaments of immigrant origin and in the European Parliament (EP) would ensure to some extent a full fledged representation of the entire electorate. These are, let's call them, the marketing conclusions in the analysis.

The more important conclusions in it, however, are related to the application of democratic principles - something the EU should always strive for:
- parties should focus on the constantly growing presence of immigrants, as their participation in the political process must be sought not only in the form of votes, but also in their capacity as party members, candidates and representatives;
- national debates should focus on the rights of these groups where there are obstacles for their integration in the political processes, to test alternatives like consultations with immigrant organisations;
- excluding immigrants from political life must be avoided;
- given the immigrants' desire to participate in elections, it is in the interest of parties themselves their platforms to include questions that are essential for immigrants.

The analysis of CES studies the participation in political processes of immigrants with a country of origin outside the EU and second or third generation of immigrants. Their voting rights are assessed, as well as their role as members of national parliaments and the European Parliament.

The immigrants as voters

However, the right to vote remains in the playing field of the host country and in the country of origin. In the four studied countries, excluding Lithuania, foreigners who do not have local citizenship do not have the right to vote. In France, where the process of naturalisation is quite open, a large part of the foreigners do not want to apply for citizenship or cannot do so because of a ban of double citizenship in their country of origin. In Germany, the dilemma on whether double citizenship should be allowed in the first place, is still going on. At the moment, apart from some exceptions, the only ones who can benefit from that are those from the group of (Spät)Aussiedler, the so called ethnic Germans. Representatives of the Turkish minority (the biggest immigrant community in the country), have to give up their first citizenship in order to be granted German passports.

In Spain, right to vote is also restricted to those who have local citizenship. There are some exceptions though. This time they are related to reciprocal bilateral agreements concluded with countries like Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru and Norway. In this way, the people of origin from any of the above mentioned countries can vote in the elections. As the report correctly notes, such a type of arrangement contains a certain dosage of discrimination because in these cases voting rights are granted on the basis of nationality and practically big immigrant communities in Spain, like Moroccans, Argentinians, Mexicans and Chinese, remain deprived of the right to participate in political processes.

In Lithuania, according to the 2011 census, the ethnic minorities have a 15% share of the population. After the country claimed independence from the USSR in 1991, almost all Soviet immigrant there were granted citizenship, unlike Latvia and Estonia where this process is much more limited.

Candidates and political representatives from the immigrant communities

The candidates in national elections in France in 2007, from the group of naturalised citizens and second and third generation of immigrants, are political dispersed as follows: National Movement Union (UMP) around 0.36%, the Socialist Party - 4.52% and the Democratic Movement - 4.58%. For Germany, the data the analysis quotes are from the federal elections in 2005, according to which the candidates with immigrant origin are 1.84% (here the representatives of the community of the ethnic Germans are excluded, with whom this percentage would be 4%).

As in Spain the immigrant wave is relatively more recent, the share of naturalised or born in the country population of foreign origin is not that big. Nonetheless, the immigrants with Spanish citizenship are around 1 million people in the immigrant community (with an origin outside the EU), which amounts to 3.3 million people. At the last elections in Spain (general: for Congress and Senate), out of 1195 candidates only 10-15 people were of immigrant origin. From 1990 up to date, the Lithuanian parliament had representatives outside the group of ethnic Lithuanians. While in 1990 19 seats in Parliament were taken by such representatives, in 2004 they were 14, which is 10% of the total number of seats in Parliament.

Representativity of the studied group in the European Parliament

Quite interesting are the data about the representatives in the European Parliament, elected in the 2009 elections. Specifying that the applied methodology is imperfect, the study was made on the basis of two criteria:
1. Studying those representatives whose names point to an origin outside the EU;
2. Specific information about the origin of European Parliament members.

According to this methodology, France is rated first in number of MEPs from immigrant communities - 9 people - followed by Britain with 5 representatives. Belgium, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden have only one MEP each with the sought characteristics. Therefore, 18 out of 27 member states do not have representatives in the European Parliament of an immigrant origin. In terms of political views, out of the identified 21 MEPs the biggest number are members of the groups of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (PASD), the Greens/European Free Alliance, the European People's Party and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

According to data from 2010, the number of born in the EU foreigners (with a country of origin outside the EU) is 31.4 million people, which is 6.3% of the overall 500-million strong population of the Union. According to Eurostat, there is a trend for a double or even triple growth of the number of people with immigrant origin in almost every member state by 2061. The interests of various political groups toward these minorities notwithstanding, a motive to include immigrants in the political processes should first and foremost be based on fulfilling the condition for democratic legitimacy. It is this point on which the EU has been heavily criticised, but in this case specifically the problem is not in Brussels.