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The Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED)

EU law and policy - Participation in citizenship and political life


ANED Annual meeting 12 November 2013, Brussels

Professor Lisa Waddington (Maastricht University) discussed EU citizenship and political participation in light of the UN CRPD. Article 18 provides for the right to acquire and change nationality of people with disabilities, whilst Article 29 addresses participation in political life.

However, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Thematic Study on participation in political and public life by persons with disabilities (December 2011) reported that many States still impose restrictions on the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections on persons with disabilities.

Within the EU each member states sets its own rules for acquiring nationality, although they must not discriminate on grounds of disability. . A significant means of acquiring nationality is through naturalisation. This process is becoming more difficult in many countries, which have introduced requirements such as tests relating to language and to knowledge of national history and culture, swearing an oath of allegiance, minimum period of residence in the state, and minimum level of income.

EU citizens have the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in their country of residence, under the same conditions as nationals. But EU citizens can be subject to restrictions in terms of their right to vote and stand provided these are on the same basis as for nationals.

In practice most states impose restrictions which impact on disabled people, especially on people with limited mental capacity. The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in  Kiss v Hungary (2010) established that the European Convention on Human Rights does not permit an absolute and automatic bar on voting rights  on anyone under guardianship. However, restrictions are permissible where these are based on an individual assessment of that person’s actual abilities.

ANED country experts Petra Flieger (Austria), Eleni Strati (Greece) and Tamás Gyulavári (Hungary) gave examples of barriers to citizenship and participation in political life, and examples of progress, at the national level.

In Austria, progress was reported in three areas. Disability awareness or disability equality is included in the curriculum for all children under citizenship education, although it is unclear how this is being implemented. Every municipality is required to set up at least one accessible polling station, and the Austrian Citizenship Act was amended to bring it into compliance with the Federal Equality Act so that if an applicant for citizenship has a disability or a permanent severe illness, they are not required to prove secure financial maintenance.

In Hungary, a key concern is the right to vote. In 2012 the UN Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities criticized the rule by which a judge can remove the right to vote from those with ‘limited mental ability’ and set a 12 months deadline for change. However, as yet there has been no reform. On a positive note, authorities are now required to provide an accessible room in the same election district if disabled votersrequest thisin advance.

In Greece, a Circular on National Elections issued in 2012 ensures access to voting procedures, although at present there are still no measures to enable voting by people who live in institutions. There are also continuing concerns about the court processes which create guardianship for people with limitations of mental capacity.

Powerpoint presentation Prof. Lisa Waddington (PDF 839 kB)
Powerpoint presentation Petra Flieger (PDF 240 kB)
Powerpoint presentation Eleni Strati (PDF 74 kB)
Powerpoint presentation Tamas Gyulavari (PDF 538 kB)