Germany’s general elections, on Sept. 26, will not include the voting of nearly 10 million people who live, work and pay taxes, due to a lack of citizenship rights, say German activists, who have been demanding the right to vote for migrants living in the country for more than five years.
According to them, as many as 14% of adults for whom Germany has become a second home have no say in political decision-making that affects them.
Article 116 of the country’s Constitution stipulates that only German citizens are eligible to vote in national and state elections.
“People without German citizenship are denied participation in elections. This means that they have no way of getting involved politically,” said Sanaz Azimipour, co-founder of MigLoom, an association which supports the political participation of first-generation migrants.
According to MigLoom, the fact that one cannot participate in the biggest political event in the country — the Bundestag (parliamentary) elections — although one’s main residence is in Germany is one of the most important aspects of structural discrimination, and this will continue as long as those affected are not represented in politics.
Behind the campaign is a quite heterogeneous group of people, including students, workers, teachers, journalists, scientists and artists. The campaign submitted a petition on the issue on the Change.org website which as of a few days ago some 5,000 people had signed.
The “Not without us 14%” petition is not the first initiative to have dealt with the right to vote for people without German citizenship.
“In other campaigns, it is mostly people speaking who have the privilege of voting and are not affected. But we want to talk here ourselves. As a democratic country, Germany must change its undemocratic laws,” said Azimipour.
Her remarks were echoed by fellow activist Azadeh Ataei, who stressed that the right to vote must indeed be a right, not a privilege.
“The right to vote is the basic requirement for democracy. It cannot be that 10 million people who do not have German citizenship are excluded from this democracy,” she said.
“We don’t just want to watch the general elections again,” Ataei added.
The campaign aims to be a bridge between people who are affected and those who already have a choice.
According to the Berlin-based Neues Deutschland newspaper, many politicians see the solution to the problem in simplifying the naturalization law so that migrants can more easily obtain German citizenship. But the fact that so far only migrants who have been naturalized have been allowed to vote means that the right to vote is a privilege and not a right.
On the other hand, many migrants do not want to be naturalized because, for example, they want to continue to travel to their native country without any problems.
Apart from the political aspects of the campaign, the question arises whether the introduction of the right to vote for foreigners living legally in Germany is possible within the framework of the country’s constitution.
Berlin-based lawyer Matthias Zieger thinks that this would not be possible without a constitutional change. Furthermore, it is questionable whether such an amendment would be permissible.
Zieger is referring to a Federal Constitutional Court ruling dating back to 1990, in which the introduction of the right to vote for foreigners at the municipal level in the northern German states of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg “was declared unconstitutional and null and void.”
Professor Hans Meyer, a constitutional lawyer at Humboldt University of Berlin, takes a different position.
Speaking to public broadcaster ARD, Meyer said: “In the decisive Article 20 (of the Constitution), it only says; ‘the people vote’ and not, for example, ‘the German people vote.’ The moment one interprets this as the German people, the possible voters are reduced to nationals. There is nothing in the Constitution about the question of whether foreigners living here are allowed to vote or not.”
“The Constitution only says that the legislature determines who is entitled to vote,” he added.
Based on this assessment, Meyer concluded that there was a reasonable case to say that people who are fully integrated in Germany, who live, work and pay their taxes and are subject to German law, are eligible to vote as German nationals.
Unlike Germany, many European Union countries already allow foreigners the right to vote. These include Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Iceland.
In the Netherlands, all foreigners who have lived in the country for five years can vote in local elections and even run for office themselves. In Ireland, foreigners are required to have been in the country just for six months to exercise the right to vote at the local level. In Denmark, the minimum is three years. However, in France and Austria, as in Germany, non-EU citizens do not have the right to vote in local elections.
Some 45 countries around the world have also granted the right to vote to migrants at the local, regional and national levels.