Letter: Disenfranchised Europeans are a loss to democracy

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Sir: Leonard Doyle ('Foreign voters to lose out in poll for Strasbourg', 29 March) reveals a scandal. Hundreds of thousands of potential electors look almost certain to lose their right to vote for the local representative of their choice in June's elections to the European Parliament. Unless they make a claim by 22 April to appear on the register, they will not have another chance to vote in a European election until 1999. All such claims should be made to the electoral registration officer at the local council, but most of the people who qualify have never been told.

I have checked with all the registration offices in Nottinghamshire, and have discovered that just 28 European Union citizens who are not British nationals have applied to go on the registers. But we have sizeable Italian, Spanish and Greek communities. In North Derbyshire, which has been joined to my constituency in the boundary changes, I find that only one person in Bolsover has applied. There have been no applications in the districts of Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire.

The Government's failure to register the overwhelming majority of these potential voters is a gross offence against democracy. In the past, no expense was spared to register British voters who were resident abroad. Now, hundreds of thousands of people who live in Britain and pay their taxes here have not been told of their rights. If the British Government had even the slightest enthusiasm for its Treaty obligations, there would have been a sustained advertising campaign in the press and on television.

It is disgraceful that the Government has been so dilatory. Such conduct amounts to discrimination against our fellow EU citizens, and I am raising the question in the European Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

KEN COATES

MEP for Nottingham (Lab)

Nottingham

30 March

The writer is chairman of the subcommittee on human rights of the European Parliament.

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