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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 12:11 GMT
Gibraltar voting plan unveiled
The Rock of Gibraltar
Residents of the Rock will have a say in European polls

Voters in parts of England or Wales could find unfamiliar names on their ballot papers at European elections in 2004 - parties representing Gibraltarians.

Plans set out by the UK government this week will extend voting rights in European polls to Gibraltar.


It is right that people in Gibraltar should be able to vote in Europe

Yvette Cooper
But because the Rock is too small to be designated as a European parliamentary region it will be "attached" to one of the nine English regions or the sole Welsh region.

It means Gibraltarian parties could stand in the selected region, with those MEPs elected charged with representing both that region and Gibraltar in the European Parliament.

Voters in Gibraltar would therefore have a say in who is elected to represent the English or Welsh region chosen for the poll.

Violation

The move follows a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 1999.

The court said the electoral rights of Denise Matthews, a British citizen living in Gibraltar, had been violated because she could not vote in European elections.

And it comes amid continuing tension between the UK Government and the Gibraltarian authorities over talks with Spain about forging a joint sovereignty agreement.

The government is hoping to have the European Parliament (Representation) Bill on the statute book in time for the 2004 European elections.

With about 17,000 voters, Gibraltar is too small - both geographically and in terms of population - to be regarded as a European parliamentary region in its own right.

Decision

As a result the Rock will be "attached" to one of the nine English regions or the sole Welsh region.

The Electoral Commission will make a recommendation on which region will be used next year.

The government will also have to decide whether a region would be renamed to acknowledge that Gibraltarian voters are taking part in the poll.

For instance, if the London region was used, the government could decide to rename it London and Gibraltar.

Voters in Gibraltar would get the same ballot papers as those in London.

'Milestone'

Gibraltarian parties could stand in the poll - so London voters would have the choice of voting for them.

Under the bill, the UK's number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) would be reduced as a result of new countries joining the European Union.

The European Parliament will increase to 732 MEPs after 10 new countries join the EU.

Representation is divided between each member state according to population size.

The UK currently has 87 seats, but that will reduce to a minimum of 72 seats.

Voice

Yvette Cooper, parliamentary secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Department said the bill was a "major milestone in European history".

"These changes reflect our international obligations under the Treaty of Nice to ensure every country has a voice in the European Parliament," she said.

"It is also right that people in Gibraltar should be able to vote in Europe."

But the bill received a cool response from the Gibraltar government.

While saying it was a "fundamentally important point" that Gibraltarians should be able to vote in European elections, it said it had not been consulted about the plans.

Talks

It said it welcomed efforts to extend voting rights to Gibraltar but added: "Some of the bill's contents do not reflect the views of the Gibraltar Government."

The UK Government says the changes would require legislation in Gibraltar.

But the Gibraltar authorities want more say in the content of the bill and say the UK Government has agreed to further talks on possible amendments.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said a decision on which UK region Gibraltar will be attached to will be made by September 2003.

Gibraltarian authorities will be consulted on the plans.


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03 Mar 99 | Politics
08 Nov 02 | Europe
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