British nationals – like other foreigners in Finland – have been receiving letters from the Population Register Centre informing them of their right to vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
The forms need to be filled in, and returned by a certain date if you want to be included on the electoral roll.
But how does Brexit – Britain’s upcoming departure from the European Union – affect the rights of British nationals to vote?
No deal Brexit
In the event of a no-deal Brexit on 29th March, Britain would leave the EU immediately and there is no eligibility to vote in European elections – even if the forms are submitted on time to Finnish authorities.
“The European Parliament doesn’t have a role in arranging the practical side of elections, including registering eligible voters, this falls under the responsibility of the national electoral authorities” explains Maria Tuomela, press officer at the European Parliament Liaison Office in Helsinki.
“The assumption is that the UK leaves the EU on March 29, and as a result, UK citizens would not be eligible to vote in European Elections in May” she says.
The message couldn’t be clearer from Finnish authorities either.
“If Brexit happens as it is planned, you will not be on our register” states Arto Jääskeläinen, Director of Electoral Administration at the Ministry of Justice.
Brexit with a deal
If Britain leaves the EU with a Brexit deal on 29th March, there would be a transition period while adjustments to the relationship are made.
However, during this time UK nationals are not considered to be EU citizens for the purposes of European Parliament elections and so even if Brits in Finland return their forms, they wouldn’t be able to vote.
Extending Article 50
There is another possibility on the horizon, that Britain might request an extension to Article 50, and postpone the date it leaves the EU.
That’s where things get a little complicated.
If it’s a short delay only, then there won’t be any right to vote in European Parliament elections. But if it’s a longer delay, then British nationals would almost certainly be allowed to vote in EU elections.
“If the extension is to be made not later than the beginning of July, then the situation is the same” British nationals won’t be allowed to vote in European Parliament elections, says Arto Jääskeläinen.
“But if the extension goes further, for example to the end of this year, that means that in that case, you probably will have the right to vote in Finnish elections, because the United Kingdom will also arrange European Parliament elections in May” he explains.
The European Parliament office agrees broadly with this assessment, but says nothing has been asked for yet.
“The question about possibly extending Article 50 remains theoretical at this point, since the UK has not requested a prolongation” says Maria Tuomela.