No voting for Tervuren foreigners

Are you a foreigner? Did you know you can apply to vote, or even stand, in Tervuren's elections on Sunday 13 October? EU citizens, and other non-Belgians resident for five years, must first apply to be able to vote. And deadlines are fast approaching.

Tervuren now has fewer foreigners on the electoral roll compared to the last elections. Reasons cited for this decline include a lack of interest in local politics, busy schedules of expatriates, and limited or nonexistent Dutch language skills.

So far, Tervuren has registered only 506 foreigners for this year’s elections, down from 600 in October 2018. At this rate, about 85% of Tervuren’s 3,599 eligible foreign voters will not be able to vote at the town hall on Sunday 13 October.

Specifically for the European elections on June 9, Tervuren registered only 471 out of 2,900 eligible EU citizens. Many EU foreigners in Tervuren are also unable to vote in their home countries due to lack of the correct ballot papers. Fortunately, foreigners who have become Belgian citizens do not need to register to vote.

Is it not possible to also inform people in English?

Submitting an official question to Tervuren’s alderperson in charge about the low registration rates, opposition councilor Geoffroy de Visscher, noted that most of the registered foreigners are from Tervuren’s 942-strong Dutch community. “Is it not possible to also inform people in English?” asked Geoffroy, a councilor for Tervuren Unie.

In Flanders, unlike Brussels, voting is no longer obligatory for October local elections. But to vote, you first need to register with Itsme and eID before Wednesday 31 July at https://www.inscription.elections.fgov.be

“As you know, we apply the language laws as befits,” said Flemish Catholic alderwoman Kristina Eyskens. Despite these laws, Kristina, daughter of former Belgian Prime Minister Mark Eyskens, mentioned the potential for the website Expat-op-pad.be to eventually provide voter registration information in other languages.

“That depends on an employee who has been absent for a while. I think that is the right way to work,” Kristina added. The website was last updated in February 2021 and primarily aims to show how Tervuren’s many foreigners should best integrate.

“It’s important that every one of us uses our democratic right to vote both on 9 June and 13 October. It’s too late now to register for the EU elections,” says Tracey D’Afters from Volt Tervuren. “Anyone, regardless of nationality, living in Tervuren for more than five years, can vote in the local elections. And I would urge them to register before 31 July,” she says. Launched recently, new European party Volt Tervuren last month put out a voter registration guide in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Allowing foreigners to vote is only a small step towards political integration. Integrating both naturalized Belgians and foreigners, who now make up about 43% of Tervuren’s 23,086 residents, remains a significant challenge for the future. Foreigners often access different local media and may not be inclined to vote for the same local politicians and parties.

Without higher registration figures, the 9,934-strong foreign community has little hope of ever securing a Tervuren councilor of non-Belgian origin, let alone an alderperson.

Belgium’s local democracy system, which concentrates decision-making in the hands of a few elected and paid officials, also does not favour integration. These positions are coveted by top local politicians as they can traditionally be combined with other remunerated full-time jobs. The mayor in Tervuren can earn up to €105,438 per year, and alderpersons up to €59,000 per year.

But that leaves little left for regular councilors, especially those in the opposition, with few opportunities to significantly influence policy decisions. Money-wise, too, with only €5,918 per year, regular councilors must stay motivated through all the lengthy reports to be read and the party and council meetings.

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Photo copyright: ©EU. Source: EC Audiovisual. Photographer: Lukasz Kobus (child), Claudio Centonze (woman voting). Article by Tervuren+ under the Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.