As the labor market globalizes, countries rightly are concerned about how to foster a sense of belonging and civic responsibility among the migrant workers on whom they depend. Western Europe began to wrestle with this question early in its regionalization process.
After the creation of the European Commission in 1967 and the formation of a customs union in 1968, countries began to embrace the idea of enfranchising noncitizen residents. This idea spread and, from 1963 to 1992, 15 countries in Europe, Latin America, and the British Commonwealth approved varying forms of noncitizen voting rights, usually on a reciprocal basis within groups of affiliated nations—as within the Nordic Union or between Portugal and its former colonies. In 1992, as the European unification process accelerated, members of the European Community (as it was then called) agreed that citizens who were living in other member nations could vote in municipal and European Parliament elections of the host country.
Today, approximately 40 countries have approved some form of immigrant suffrage. Since 1994, Belgium, Austria, and Rome have approved laws according various levels of voting rights to noncitizen residents.
Their logic is simple and sensible, and it addresses the rhetorical question asked by the legal scholars T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Douglas Klusmeyer in their book, Citizenship Policies for an Age of Migration: “Why should [a European Union] citizen who has just recently moved to another member state enjoy a right to vote in a local election while a third-country national who has lived there for years but does not yet qualify for naturalization is excluded from participating in his or her city?”