Britain is among a handful of European Union nations singled out for unfair treatment of expat voters.
The European Commission (EC) has set out new guidance for how EU nations should treat expat voters who have moved from their home nation to another state within the union.
Britain, along with Denmark, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta were criticised for applying election rules that stop voters from taking part in regional or national elections after leaving their home nation.
The guidance follows a recent poll by the EC revealed around 65% of voters believed it was wrong to lose their vote at home once they moved to another country.
Most EU nations let their citizens keep their vote, although some require them to renew registrations from time to time.
Restriction on freedom
The EC says failing to allow expats to vote breaches the right to freedom of movement within the EU and flouts the founding principles of the EU which promise citizens additional rights, not restrictions on their freedom.
The guidance calls for EU states to give the vote in national elections to expats who can show they are up to date with political issues in their home nation by applying to remain on the electoral roll.
“Having a vote is one of the basic principles of a true democracy and the right of every citizen,” said Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner.
“Taking this right away when someone moves to another EU country is punishing them for opting to exercise the right of freedom of movement.
“People from all over Europe have made clear this is an extremely important issue. As a result, we want all states to support the right to vote and have offered proportionate guidance to the five nations about enrolling voters who have moved to another EU state.”
British expats lose the right to vote at home when they have been absent from the country for more than 15 years.
The Electoral Commission has started a massive social media and advertising campaign to raise the number of expat voters worldwide from just 30,000 to 100,000.
Britain has around 5 million expats in 128 different countries, according to the Foreign Office. Many of these expats live in other EU states, especially France, Portugal and Spain.
“The internet allows expats to keep in touch with events in their home countries and there is no reason why they should not be as involved with politics as much as someone who remained at home,” added Reding. “Critics who say living outside their home nation means they should not vote because they fail to understand the issues are living behind the times.”