Town halls along the Costa del Sol, as in the rest of Spain, are currently touting support for the forthcoming municipal elections in May. One of the communities that many of them are targeting is the foreign residents, which, in some towns in the province of Malaga, make up over 20 per cent of the population. However, British residents are currently unsure whether they will be able to continue to exercise their right to vote if the UK exits the EU at the end of March. As with everything concerning Brexit, no one seems to be able to clarify whether the British will lose this right, although many town halls expect that the governments of Spain and the UK will sign a bilateral agreement shortly.
SUR in English spoke with Aida Blanes, councillor for the Foreign Residents Department of Torremolinos town hall. Although she agrees that there is still no official confirmation, she stressed the importance of exercising the right to vote before January 30, the deadline for registration.
Who can vote in the municipal elections?
Foreigners over the age of 18 residing in Spain can vote on May 26, both nationals of countries of the European Union and countries that have agreements for the municipal elections, which are Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Korea, Ecuador, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago. Citizens wishing to vote must have legally resided in Spain for three years (Norway 5 years). Those who registered in the municipal elections in 2015 must re-register for the elections this year.
What documents do voters need to possess in order to register?
To vote you must be registered on the electoral roll, and for this it is necessary to first be registered on the municipal census. You must also possess a current identity number (NIE). You should submit the formal declaration (DFA form) to express your right to vote in Spain, which can be done by mail, internet or personally at the town hall. The form is available at the town hall and in the foreign resident's office in Plaza de Andalucía. When registering, you must present documentation that certifies your identity (passport with green card or NIE) and documentation that confirms your address (photocopy of the IBI or rental contract).
Do you feel confident that British residents will have the right to vote in the municipal elections in May if the UK leaves the EU?
Yes, we believe that British residents can vote in the local elections in May 2019, but there is still no official confirmation. According to the National Statistics Institute, although the United Kingdom has expressed its intention to leave the European Union in March 2019, the agreement of the Central Electoral Board (3 October 2018) states that the citizens of the UK resident in Spain should not be excluded from the formation of the electoral roll for the municipal elections and the European Parliament. This is a forecast injunction which will cease to have effect if the UK leaves the EU in March. However, according to the latest news, the governments of Spain and UK are negotiating an agreement that will allow British residents in Spain to vote in the municipal elections in 2019. In any case, we encourage British residents to register; if they do not, they will not be able to vote regardless of the outcome of Brexit.
Can registration be made on the internet?
Yes. Information about how foreign residents can register their right to vote can be found on the website of the National Institute of Statistics (INE) https://sede.ine.gob.es,
What is the last day that British residents can register their right to vote?
European residents wishing to vote must register before Wednesday 30 January.
Why is it important for foreign residents to exercise their right to vote?
For all citizens, regardless of their nationality, the right to vote should be assumed as a fundamental tool of political decision-making, as they have the possibility to choose their representatives. It is important that we go to vote in order to be heard.
What are the benefits for foreign residents who vote in the municipal elections?
The right to vote is a fundamental right of citizens, which allows them to participate in political decisions made by the local council. Since the PSOE government came to power in Torremolinos, we have always encouraged expatriate resident participation, as this a tool to provide greater democratic policies.
-What other services does the Foreign Residents Office offer to foreign residents?
The Foreigners Office offers information about the services and procedures of Torremolinos town hall and other public administrations, although the demand for information and assistance is very varied.
Spain already has a bilateral arrangement with a number of other non-EU countries: Do you believe that the Spanish and UK government can arrange something similar before the end of March?
It seems likely as both governments have stressed their desire to negotiate such an agreement, but we will have to wait and see what happens.
Many British residents in Torremolinos, especially the elderly, are worried that their statutory rights will change after Brexit. Some fear that they will not be able to continue to have the same benefits that they currently enjoy. Can you offer a message of reassurance to those residents?
It is difficult for us to know what will happen, but I can assure residents that we are in permanent contact with the British Consulate and so we are being kept up to date with all the current information. In addition, the Foreign Residents Office can offer assistance with any doubts that may arise, and we will do everything in our power to find a solution for such concerns.