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EUROPEAN UNION

Spaniards most likely to want their own EU referendum, poll shows

A new poll shows that while most Spaniards aren't eager to follow in the UK's footsteps, they are more likely than anyone else to want their own vote on the European Union.

Spaniards most likely to want their own EU referendum, poll shows
An EU flag at the Royal Post Office in Madrid. Photo: AFP

A poll by Pew Research Center released on Thursday examined how Europeans are feeling nearly a year after the UK narrowly voted to leave the EU.

The survey polled almost 10,000 people from France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

When asked whether Spain should leave the EU, just 13 percent of Spaniards said ‘yes’. But when asked whether their country should have its own referendum on EU membership, 65 percent were in favour – the highest percentage of any country polled.

Little support for leaving EU, but many want a referendum on membership

Across the countries surveyed – excluding the UK – a median of 18 percent of respondents said they wanted to leave the Union, while 53 percent said they wanted to have their own vote.

The countries with the highest number of people ready to leave the EU were Greece and Italy, at 35 percent of their respondents in favour of either Grexit or Italexit.

Including the UK, a median of 69 percent of respondents overall said they felt Brexit would ultimately be bad for the EU. Spanish respondents on their own were more pessimistic at 78 percent saying it would not be good.

Most also said Brexit would be bad for the UK with a median of 55 percent overall, though among UK respondents, opinion was more divided: 48 percent said it would be bad, and 44 percent said it would be good.

In Spain, 70 percent said Brexit would be bad news for Britain, while just 22 percent said it would be good.

Few Europeans think Brexit will be good for UK, but Brits are divided

Other than Greece, most countries generally had favourable views of the EU, with an overall median of 63 percent who said they had a positive opinion of it. Just 33 percent of Greeks were happy with the Union, while 62 percent of Spaniards were positive.

And given how hard Spain was hit by the 2008 financial crisis, it’s perhaps no surprise that most Spaniards (52 percent) said they disapproved of the way the EU has been dealing with economic issues. On the opposite end of the spectrum, most Germans said they approved, at 61 percent.

One area where Europeans seemed to agree was on the handling of the refugee crisis. Most respondents said they disapproved of the EU’s handling of it, with 67 percent of Spaniards sharing unfavourable opinions.

 

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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