Back in 1994, Felipe Gonzalez decreed that some of the foreigners in Spain – the EU residents plus the Norwegians – would be able to vote in both local and European elections. His Minister for the Presidency was the appalling Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba (he of the doomed European Residence Cards), who evidently worried that we Europeans would vote in a conservative way in the local elections. Thus, we were allowed in 1995 to vote only in the European elections, which of course had no impact. It wasn’t until 1999 that we were first able to vote in the elecciones municipales.
Where, of course, and no doubt much to Rubalcaba’s surprise, most of us didn’t bother.
In that local election in 1999, following a small change to the Spanish Constitution, we Europeans were even able to run for office. Few of us put down our names for this honour.
Sixteen years later, there are still very few extranjeros in local government, even with a handful of extra countries with bi-lateral voters agreements with Spain – perhaps for lack of will on the part of the immigrants themselves and perhaps, too, because the local Spanish would find it problematic to give us their vote. Still, there are a few in various town halls across Spain, which must be a healthy development.
An interesting part of the recent plan by the PSOE/Ciudadanos coalition is to give all foreign residents the right to vote (and stand for office) in local elections, and better still, we would all be automatically inscribed on the election roster. The coalition probably won’t make it into Government, but the idea is now on the table. A further notice to gather in the foreigners comes from a European study called Pathways to Power which bills itself as ‘The Political Representation of Citizens of Immigrant Origin in Seven European Democracies’. It seems that, in Spain, we have even less foreign immigrants in our governing bodies than is found in other European countries. El País in English carries the story and says that Spain comes out bottom of the list for integration in the analysis of European parliaments. Again, the subject is now in the open. Why is this important? Without representation, a citizen has no voice. Without full integration, a city is divided.