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Upcoming Decision of the Bremen Constitutional Court on Voting Rights for Third Country Nationals

MIPEX III Germany_Turkey_by_Mohamed-Yahyashows us that third country nationals do not enjoy voting rights anywhere in Germany.  This could change  in the near future if the Bremen Constitutional Court gives the green light to the Bremen Parliament to adopt legislation allowing third country nationals to  vote in local council elections in a decision to be taken on 31st January 2014.  The draft law has already passed the first reading but Parliament has asked for a judicial review before moving onto the second reading.

Previous rulings of both the German Federal Constitutional Court (notably the ruling of 31 October 1990) and the Bremen Constitutional Court (1991) have found the extension of voting rights to third country nationals to be unconstitutional.  Consequently, MIPEX III and the MIPEX blog “Voting rights for Immigrants: Next stop Berlin?” noted that constitutional change is a pre-requisite for allowing third country nationals to vote in Germany.  However, the consultation process for Bremen’s draft law has highlighted the view held by some experts that the objections posed by the courts in the past are no longer valid and that the draft law does not require amendment of the constitution.   We will have to wait until 31st January to find out if the constitutional court of Bremen agrees!

MIPEX III, the OSCE background paper on Migration and Democracy: Migrant Participation in Public Affairs (prepared by MPG) and the Special Feature on Migrant Political Integration (prepared by MPG for the European Web Site on Integration) provide useful analysis of the voting rights afforded to third country nationals by EU Member States and beyond.  While voting rights in national elections are very rare (in the UK and Portugal only, and only for nationals of certain third countries), were Bremen to pass the proposed law it would join 16 other Member States which currently allow third country nationals to vote in local elections (although the conditions for exercising this right differ widely among these countries).  These examples have allowed researchers to conclude that once granted, electoral rights are not revoked or seriously challenged.  In practice, letting immigrants participate in elections before their naturalisation has few implementation and maintenance costs, and few of the supposedly negative effects often raised play out in practice (foreign influence, ethnic parties, radical overturn of the status quo).

In the lead up to this important decision, Bremen should keep in mind that the challenge of involving immigrants in the democratic process does not end with the extension of voting rights.  Research has found that critical follow-up steps include outreach by political parties.  In this respect, we urge Germany’s political parties to use the benchmarking tool developed by MPG to help them mainstream diversity throughout their processes, including outreach to voters.