As a British citizen born in Belgium, I had to fight for the right to vote

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
As a British citizen born in Belgium, I had to fight for the right to vote

I had to fight and pay just to be able to vote. Now, there are 13.5 million EU citizens who still don’t have the right.

I was born and raised in Brussels as a British citizen which had its implications on identity. I struggled with the most simple question: where do you come from? Brussels was home but I felt I did not belong here because I was not Belgian and I grew up in a British household. When I was in the UK, it felt like home, hearing English everywhere, the culture, food, etc. But at the same time, it didn’t. All the everyday norms from Brussels were not in the UK.

In the meantime, my parents slowly became disenfranchised by the UK government as they had lived outside for 15 years, despite being tax residents and having UK bank accounts.

Once they lost their voting rights for the UK, they lost all voting rights. Even if you are an EU citizen and are entitled to move, live and work in another Member State, you cannot vote in national and regional elections of that Member State. At this point, my parents, residing in Belgium as both Belgian and British tax residents, could only vote in local elections.

Then Brexit happened

After a lengthy court battle with my Brussels Commune, I eventually gained my Belgian citizenship. Since then I have been able to vote in three elections (regional, national and European).

I feel so privileged to be able to vote, but that should not be the case. I should not feel so lucky to gain my Belgian citizenship, at a price, to exercise my right to vote in a country that I call home. For me, it just makes sense that other mobile EU citizens who have faced similar problems should have the right to vote in the member state that they reside in.

I fought for my citizenship, knowing I could gain the right to vote, now, it is my turn to help those whom I know have faced too similar stories to mine.

Voters Without Borders is a European Citizen Initiative (ECI) that demands full political rights for EU citizens in their country of residence. EU citizens have the right to vote and stand as candidates in local and European elections but not in regional or national elections or in referendums in their country of residence. There are 13.5 million mobile EU citizens who are deprived of their voting rights in regional and national elections, and referendums.

The number of mobile EU citizens has approximately doubled in the past decade. This trend can only be expected to continue. It is time to make sure our political rights are up to date with our choice of mobility. The Voters Without Borders campaign is under way until 11 June 2022 to collect 1 million signatures.

As a task force of Erasmus students and young graduates, we have together out of concern for the future of democracy and young and future voters' role. The Voters Without Borders campaign aims to further push democracy into a new, more powerful dimension. This is a European issue and we are trying to guarantee these full political rights to mobile EU citizens, present and future.

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