By Humphrey Carter
VOTING in municipal elections in the Balearics is going to become much easier for foreign residents registered with their Town Hall come the next round of municipal elections in 2007. Well, at least, that is the aim of a Calvia pressure group made up of a number foreign residents and local councillor for Tourism Kate Mentink, who have joined together to lobby Brussels for a full inquiry. With the European elections looming and foreign residents having to fill out forms stating if and where they wish to vote, should they maintain a residence in their country of origin, the Brussels inquiry into claims of foreign vote “blocking” by the former socialist council, which has strictly rebuffed the accusations, is going to be used by the Calvia pressure group to get rid of all the red tape and make it easier and simpler for foreign residents to vote in the various elections in which they are entitled to participate. The foreign vote blocking scandal broke when British Conservative Euro MP Robert Sturdy was contacted by a former constituent now resident in Calvia.
Claims that foreign residents wishing to register to vote were being deliberately delayed and confused, shocked not only Sturdy but his Spanish socialist party colleagues in Brussels. Sturdy raised the issue with the European Parliament on the very same day it sat to debate the Iraq War and Euro MPs agreed that an inquiry should be carried out. That was, however, postponed so as not to influence the outcome of the municipal elections; now however, it's up for discussion and Calvia Councillor for Tourism and European Affairs, Kate Mentink is waiting to be called to Brussels to discuss the “vote blocking” claims with Euro MPs sometime within the next two weeks. Mentink, however, admitted yesterday that the aim is not to apportion blame “but to find out what went wrong and why so that the same mistakes are not made again.” Vote blocking claims were not exclusive to Calvia. Similar complaints were made in a number of other municipalities in Majorca, all, coincidentally, run by socialist-led councils. But the key aim now is to ensure that, by 2007, European Union residents registered with their Town Hall have the same voting rights and follow the same procedure as their Spanish neighbours. For example, once on the electoral roll, then presenting oneself at a polling station with a passport, or alternative accepted form of identification, would be sufficient. Mentink said yesterday that the Mayor of Calvia, Carlos Delgado, intends to raise the issue with central government in Madrid in an attempt to have a new set of clear national guidelines introduced governing voting rights and procedures for European Union residents in Spain. “We want it to become much more transparent,” Mentink said yesterday. What is more, the proposed wide ranging shake-up in voting for EU residents could go as far as including national elections. At present, European Union residents on the electoral roll can vote in municipal and European elections, but not in the Balearic regional or national government elections. “We're all European citizen,” Mentink said “but obviously, that could take a long time and we've got to take things step by step and make sure procedures are fair, clear and everyone is fully aware of their rights.”

OPINION

by Irene Taylor
ANY move which will lead to a reduction in red tape should be welcomed with open arms, particularly when it involves such an important procedure as casting a vote. The right of foreigners to vote in Spanish municipal elections was a long time coming, but unfortunately, it was not taken up by as many people as expected. I would like to think that this was mainly due to the red tape involved in registering, but I rather suspect that it was apathy - it is one thing to moan about the local council in one's local, it is quite another to actually get up and do something about it. So, all praise to the Calvia pressure group, and may their efforts encourage more people to stand up and exercise their right to vote.

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