Europe 2004 - for the first time former Cold War foes can vote in each other's elections


Just fifteen years ago it would have been unthinkable for citizens of countries on one side of the Iron Curtain to vote in elections held on the other. In June this will become a reality. In a few days' time eight former communist countries will be joining the European Union, and elections to the European Parliament will follow six weeks later. EU citizens who are resident in another member country will be entitled to vote for that country's candidates, and that includes the new members. Radio Prague's David Vaughan, a British citizen and Prague resident, went down to register as a Czech voter.

I've come to the town-hall of Zizkov, Prague 3, which is the part of Prague I live in - it's rather an elegant, later 19th century building, and the reason I'm here is in order to register to vote in the European elections. So I'm going to go in, to find out what I need to do to take part.

I've now come up to the fourth floor and I'm talking to Eva Cihelkova, who's in charge of the department that deals with voting rights in Prague 3. What do I need as an EU citizen to be able to vote in the elections?

"All you have to do is - by 2nd May, 40 days before the vote - go down to the local town hall, where you are living. You fill out and sign a form and a declaration that you will not be voting anywhere else."

So all I need to bring is the document that confirms that I have either permanent residence in the Czech Republic or long-term residence. I know that in many European countries it's also possible for foreigners from other EU states to vote in local elections.

"The law on elections to local authorities, which came into effect two years ago, takes this into consideration. You can't vote in parliamentary elections here, but you can take part in local elections. As soon as the Czech Republic joins the EU, a multilateral agreement will come into effect with all the EU members."

Eva Cihelkova
So that means that citizens of any of the 25 EU countries will also be able to vote in local elections here.

"Yes, if they have permanent or long-term residence."

And I'd also be able to stand - theoretically - as a candidate in the European elections, wouldn't I?

"Yes, theoretically, you could, if a Czech party, movement or association put you on its candidate list - in fact, not just in theory, but also in practice."

How much interest has there been among foreigners in voting in the European elections?

"In Prague 3 we've had two so far, and it's the middle of April already."

And one of the two is me. There are two weeks for any further EU citizens to make up their minds. You're not expecting any sudden, last-minute interest?

"I don't know what the mentality of other European citizens is, but if they're anything like the Czechs, then they'll probably turn up at the last minute."

So it's now about twenty minutes since I went into the town-hall, everything has been sorted out, I've been given a letter confirming that I will be able to vote on the 11th and 12th June. So I'm now an official voter in the Czech Republic. But I've still got the toughest decision ahead of me - who to vote for. With 31 parties registered, I've got quite a choice.