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BREXIT VOTE

EUROPEAN UNION

Has bureaucracy deprived Brits abroad of their vote?

Thousands of British voters abroad might find their vote in this week's crucial referendum is wasted, after some local councils left sending out ballots until the last minute and some post offices on the continent refused to accept ballots, says George Cunningham,

Has bureaucracy deprived Brits abroad of their vote?
George Cunningham warns that many Brits abroad will have missed the chance to vote.

Around 300,000 expat Brits have registered to vote in the EU Referendum on 23rd June, three times as many as for the 2015 General Election. While this is a partial validation of the Electoral Commission’s voter registration drive, successful registration is not the same thing as successful voting.

As we’ve noted before, local British councils need to ensure overseas voters actually receive their postal ballots in time to send them back before polls close in the UK on 23rd June. The debacle of the 2015 General Election is still fresh in many minds, when many ballots were sent out late.

So we asked our Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrat members (in 22 countries) who were allowed to vote to monitor whether they received their postal votes without any glitch.

First the good news. Based on our anecdotal feedback, ballots had been received successfully from 15 local councils two weeks before the referendum: Lewisham (London); Hammersmith (London), Fulham (London), City of Westminster (London); Greenwich, South Norfolk; Poole (Dorset); Lewes (Sussex); Daventry; Dover; Kensington (London); Swansea, Haringey (London); Rushcliffe, Shepway (Folkestone), Oxford and Nottingham City. 

Now the worrying. With less than a fortnight to go, ballots had not arrived with our members from at least three councils: Taunton (Somerset), Eastleigh (which was not sending out the individual’s ballot until 15th June!) and Kettering.

We’ve asked people to stay on the case and let us know when their ballots do arrive. I had to intervene personally with the British Embassy in Brussels in light of last week’s concern that pre-franked envelopes were not being accepted by a small number of post office counters in Belgium (and Germany). The Electoral Commission issued a statement reassuring that all internationally-franked envelops are acceptable but that news clearly sometimes does not filter through to local post offices. 

We are also encouraging Brits abroad to send their ballots back with extra stamps or even by registered post, particularly if their ballot is late arriving, as a member in Portugal’s did.

In the short term, there is really no excuse for councils to be slow about sending out the ballots of overseas voters. We know they are under-resourced and dealing with an unprecedented surge in voter registration. But this referendum hasn’t taken anyone by surprise. It’s been known about for months.

In the longer term, if the Government moves ahead with its manifesto promise to lift the 15 year rule in time for the expected 2020 General Election, there needs to be a concerted effort to create a proper set of overseas constituencies, particularly important as the issues faced by expats are different from the ordinary Brit. 

The Government, Electoral Commission and local authorities all say they want to improve democratic participation. Well fine. But don’t make it difficult (or indeed impossible) for people who actually want to take part. 

Otherwise, it’s not democracy.

George Cunningham is Chair of Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, a non-partisan 'get out the vote' initiative managed by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. The campaign has a Facebook page with up-to-date news about the debate. More information on the Brussels and Europe Lib Dems referendum campaign can be found by clicking here.

 

IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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