European Court of Justice dismisses Spain's case against European Elections in Gibraltar

The European Court of Justice has thrown out the Spanish case against European elections in Gibraltar. The Spanish Government had argued against Gibraltar being part of an electoral constituency in England and also against qualifying Comonwealth citizens being allowed to vote in Gibraltar. The Spanish claims have foundered on both.

The case between the Kingdom of Spain versus the United Kingdom particularly concerned the determination of whether a Member State is entitled to extend the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament to nationals of non-member countries resident in Europe, in this case in Gibraltar.

To enable the inhabitants of Gibraltar to participate in elections to the European Parliament, the United Kingdom established, in 2003, a new electoral region which combines Gibraltar with an existing electoral region in England and created a special electoral register. Thus, the right to vote at those elections was conferred on citizens of the Union and citizens of the Commonwealth satisfying certain criteria (qualifying Commonwealth citizens, 'QCCs') resident in Gibraltar.

But according to Spain, only citizens of the Union can be recognised as having the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament. In addition, Spain claimed that by providing for the combination of the territory of Gibraltar with an existing electoral region in England, the United Kingdom was in breach of Annex I to the 1976 Act and of its Declaration of 18 February 2002. It brought an action before the Court of Justice of the European Communities against the United Kingdom for failure to fulfil Treaty obligations.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The Court recalls, at the outset, that it was to comply with a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that the United Kingdom adopted the legislation challenged by the Kingdom of Spain.

For reasons connected to its constitutional traditions, the United Kingdom chose to grant

the right to vote and stand for election to QCCs satisfying conditions expressing a specific link with the area in respect of which the elections are held.

The Court holds that neither the EC Treaty nor the 1976 Act defines expressly and precisely who are to be entitled to the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament. Therefore, in the current state of Community law, the definition of the persons entitled to vote and stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament falls within the competence of each Member State in compliance with Community law. The

relevant articles of the EC Treaty do not preclude the Member States from granting that

right to vote and to stand as a candidate to certain persons who have close links to them,

other than their own nationals or citizens of the Union resident in their territory.

COMBINED CONSTITUENCY

In addition, so far as concerns the combination of the territory of Gibraltar with an existing electoral region in England, the Court notes that a Gibraltar elector is thus in a similar situation to that of a United Kingdom elector and need not be faced with difficulties connected to Gibraltar's status which make it impossible for him to exercise that right to vote or dissuade him from doing so. It therefore rejects the Kingdom of Spain's argument in that regard.





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