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EUROPEAN UNION

Cameron to visit Paris to push for EU reform

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is to visit Paris next week as part of his charm offensive as he tries to persuade European leaders to allow Britain to renegotiate its ties with the EU, ahead of a planned In/Out referendum in the UK.

Cameron to visit Paris to push for EU reform
UK PM David Cameron will hope to convince François Hollande that Britain should be allowed to renegotiate its relationship to the EU. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister David Cameron will travel to Paris and Berlin next week for talks as Britain seeks to renegotiate its relationship with the EU, British officials said Friday.

The talks at the end of next week were announced as Cameron arrived at a summit in Riga where he is tentatively starting discussions on reforms to Britain's position in the European Union ahead of an in-out referendum on membership due by the end of 2017.

Cameron predicted as he arrived at the summit of EU leaders and six former Soviet states that there would be “ups and downs” in Britain's renegotiation bid.

But he voiced his “determination” to make a success of reform, which he says will require changes to the EU's core treaties.

Cameron will be able to gauge the possible success of any talks in Paris at the summit in Riga where he is expected to gently lay out his plans to reform the 28-nation bloc. He will hope to receive positive reaction from Europe's main leaders, like French president François Hollande and Germany's Angela Merkel.

Cameron knows he has a long road ahead of him, with a planned In/Out referendum scheduled to take place in 2017, although some suggest it may actually be held as early as next May.

“These talks will not be easy. They will not be quick. There will be different views and disagreements along the way,” said the Prime Minister before travelling to Riga.

“But by working together in the right spirit and sticking at it, I ­believe we can find solutions that will address the concerns of the British people and improve the EU as a whole.

“After all we are not alone in wanting to make the EU work better for people across Europe. And that is what I'm ­determined to do.”

Cameron's chief requirement is a change to laws surrounding access to benefits by EU migrants. Cameron wants restrictions on benefits unless migrants have lived in the country for four years.

He is also expected to demand an opt-out from one the EU's core principles of forging an “ever-closer union” between member states.

SEE ALSO: Why all Brits should get the vote in UK referendum

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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