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Europe Enfranchises its Expatriates, But Few Exercise Their New Right With AM-Eurovote

June 12, 1994

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ For Sunday’s elections to the European Union’s assembly, EU citizens living outside their homelands could vote in their host nation for the first time. But many didn’t.

″Oh yes, it’s really important, but I don’t have time to follow politics and nobody made much effort to inform us emigrants,″ said shopkeeper Maria Jose Messias Figueira to explain why she did not vote.

″No, I did not vote. Thirty-five years I’ve been in Belgium, nobody has ever sent us voting papers, not to me, not for my wife,″ said Emilio Capaldi from Italy, who was serving up cones of ice cream and ices from a van.

Under EU rules, the citizen of an EU nation who is residing in another EU nation can vote in elections held in the nation of residence. Sunday’s European Parliament vote was the first in which that right could be exercised.

But of the 429,000 foreigners eligible to vote in Belgium only 24,000 bothered to so. Across the EU less than 5 percent of expatriates took advantage of their new voting rights.

Many were unaware of how to go about voting, even the only requirement for registering was filling out some forms in the local town hall.

At Kitty O’Shea’s Irish pub, in the shadow of the EU’s headquarters, there was more unawareness and indifference towards the elections.

″I’ve been here nine years, but I don’t even know how to go about voting,″ said Graeme de la Mer, a political consultant originally from Scotland.

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