Brexit provides no reasonable justification for depriving British expats in Cyprus of the right to vote in municipal elections
Brexit is no justification for disenfranchising British permanent residents settled in Cyprus. The decision of the Council of Ministers to take away their right to vote in municipal elections is discriminatory, undemocratic and contrary to traditional Cypriot generosity. It is not compelled by Cyprus’ constitution, misapplies EU law and may be in breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Those eligible to vote in national elections are usually citizens, but municipal elections affect people locally in ways that entitle them to participate in the governance of their community without in the least prejudicing the political rights of citizens nationally.
The resentment of British residents is palpable and felt more acutely because it operates retrospectively in that it took away an existing voting right, contrary to the rule against retrospective deprivation of protected human rights.
For the government, however, the question was whether it would have been unconstitutional to retain their right to vote after Brexit and if it was unconstitutional whether European human rights law overrode the constitution. The assumption must be that both these questions were addressed, and it was decided that British long-term residents could not retain the right to vote after Brexit as they had become third country nationals.
This in turn begs the question whether third country nationals permanently resident in Cyprus can be granted the right to vote in municipal elections? The right affects not just British citizens but Russians and others who have chosen to settle in Cyprus and who may wish to participate in local affairs that directly affect their daily lives.
It is the true that under Cyprus’ original constitution only citizens have the right to vote in elections in Cyprus. But that is not conclusive against the right of non-citizens to vote because Cyprus’ constitution was amended when the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) joined the EU in 2004 to give pride of place to EU law, required by the terms of accession. For all practical purposes the amendment means that no provision of the constitution can prevent EU law from having legal effect in Cyprus.
EU law concerning third country nationals who are long-term residents in member states is contained in article 11 of Council Directive 2003/109/EC. It provides for equal treatment in specific areas leaving member states a discretion to grant such residents equality with EU citizens in areas of a state’s own choosing.
This article first appeared on Cyprus Mail
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