Theresa May drops post-Brexit £65 fee for EU citizens

The UK prime minister said she wanted ‘no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay.’

LONDON — EU citizens registering for settled status in the U.K. after Brexit will no longer have to pay a £65 application fee, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said.

Around three million EU citizens living in the U.K. have been invited to apply for long-term residency status after Brexit.

Those with five years continuous residence will qualify for settled status, granting them the indefinite right to stay, while those in the U.K. for less than five years can apply for pre-settled status and accrue the rights after five years’ residence.

However, May’s government had faced criticism over compulsory fees for those applying.

In a statement to the House of Commons, May said: “Having listened to concerns from [MPs] — and organizations like the ‘The 3 Million’ group [which represents EU27 citizens in the U.K.] — I can confirm today that when we roll out the scheme in full on 30th March, the government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay.”

“And anyone who has or will apply during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed. More details about how this will work will be made available in due course,” she added.


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Donald Tusk warned David Cameron about ‘stupid’ Brexit referendum

Ex-British PM thought the Liberal Democrats would block plans to hold EU referendum.

European Council President Donald Tusk said he told David Cameron to “get real” while the former British prime minister was trying to negotiate a deal with the EU ahead of the “stupid” Brexit referendum in June 2016.

Tusk was interviewed for a BBC Two series called “Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil,” the first episode of which airs on January 28, and recalled the conversations he had with Cameron at the time.

“I told him bluntly, come on David, get real. I know that all prime ministers are promising to help you, but believe me the truth is that no one has an appetite for revolution in Europe only because of your stupid referendum,” Tusk said on the program, extracts of which were released to the press on Monday.

“If you try to force us, to hurry us, you will lose everything. And for the first time I saw something close to fear in his eyes. He finally realized what a challenge he was facing.”

Tusk also said that Cameron believed his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, would stop the referendum from happening; that plan changed when the Conservatives won the 2015 general election.

“I asked David Cameron, why did you decide on this referendum … it’s so dangerous, so even stupid, you know, and he told me — and I was really amazed and even shocked — that the only reason was his own party,” the former Polish prime minister said.

Tusk said Cameron “felt really safe, because he thought … that there’s no risk of a referendum, because his coalition partner, the Liberals, would block this idea of a referendum. But then, surprisingly, he won [the election] and there was no coalition partner. So paradoxically, David Cameron became the real victim of his own victory.”

Also in the BBC series, Tusk spoke about his telephone conversation with Cameron when he learned the British prime minister was going to resign after the Brexit vote.

“David Cameron called me and he informed me that he’s ready to resign. I said yes David, it would be very difficult even to imagine that a prime minister who was the leader of Remain’s campaign would be just two days later a prime minister negotiating Brexit. It was like his day of reckoning was coming, reckoning for his biggest mistake in his life.”


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Russia has ‘negative’ reaction to latest EU sanctions

‘We are not aware of any more substantive and specific proof, which is why we have a negative reaction to such decisions,’ says Kremlin spokesman.

The Kremlin denounced Monday latest EU sanctions against two Russians accused by Britain of poisoning former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

EU foreign ministers Monday imposed sanctions on nine people — four Russians and five Syrians — as well as the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, a Syrian entity responsible for developing and making chemical weapons. The sanctions are the first to be imposed by the European Union under a new regime of restrictive measures against the use and proliferation of chemical weapons set up in October.

Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a news conference that the two Russian men — identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — are “suspected without any basis, there has been no proof so far.”

“We are all familiar with the infamous photographs of these two citizens in the U.K.,” Russian state media TASS reported him as saying,  adding there “are many, many photos of Russian citizens in the U.K., and they do not serve as direct proof.”

“We are not aware of any more substantive and specific proof, which is why we have a negative reaction to such [EU] decisions,” Peskov said.

The EU sanctions include EU-wide travel bans and the freezing of assets. Also, EU persons and entities are barred from making funds available to those sanctioned.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury last March. The U.K. says Russian intelligence officers poisoned them with Novichok, a nerve agent. The two men accused of the attack have said they were in Britain only as tourists.

Peskov said Britain had still not handed over evidence it had gathered against the two men, and said their guilt had not been proven. “In this case, the situation has not changed, in our opinion,” he said.


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Pooches, politicians and other animals

From Putin’s dogs to cuddly koalas, leaders can’t resist a pet project.

Donald Trump is the first U.S. president for more than a century not to have a dog as a pet in the White House (presumably because it would out-think him). But is he missing a trick?

Two of his good friends — and many others — would no doubt think so.

Throughout history, animals have been used to win over enemies, forge alliances and, sometimes, to intimidate one’s opponents. Here are some examples of when pets scored political points.

Vladimir Putin and his dogs

For the Russian president, dogs are up there with his great loves — stealing bits of other countries and jailing political opponents.

Putin’s love of dogs means a politician simply needs to give him a pooch as a gift and they’ll automatically be in his good graces.

Putin likes to be photographed cuddling his dogs almost as much as be likes to be photographed shirtless while riding horses.

The latest example took place last week, when Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić gave Putin a Šarplaninac (or Yugoslavian shepherd) puppy named Pasha. The gift reflects Vučić’s efforts to stay close to Russia, Belgrade’s traditional ally, while also moving closer to the European Union. Putin has claimed that the EU is forcing Serbia to make an “artificial choice” between Moscow and the West, as well as complaining about the expansion of NATO into the Balkans. The Kremlin also rejects Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, in contrast to most Western countries.

Pasha will have company in the Kremlin. In late 2017, the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, gave the Russian leader a Central Asian shepherd puppy known as an alabai during talks in Sochi that focused on natural gas exports, and not on Turkmenistan’s appalling treatment of animals.

And in 2011, Putin was given a dog called Yume (which means “dream” in Japanese) by the governor of Japan’s Akita prefecture to say thanks for Russia’s assistance following the tsunami. (In late 2016, Japan wanted to present the Russian president with a second Akita Inu dog, but Moscow politely declined.)

A year before that, Putin was given a Karakachan dog by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to celebrate the signing of a series of energy deals. The dog was later named Buffy by a 5-year-old boy who won a nationwide competition. Putin said he merely liked the name and it had nothing to do with the TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Putin’s labrador wanders around while Merkel and Putin address the press, January 2007 | Dmitry Astakhov/AFP via Getty Images

Putin likes to be photographed cuddling his dogs almost as much as be likes to be photographed shirtless while riding horses. But he has other uses for his canine friends. In 2007, Putin let his black labrador, Koni, wander about during a meeting with Angela Merkel.

“The dog does not bother you, does she? She’s a friendly dog and I’m sure she will behave herself,” Putin said during the meeting.

The dog did bother her. The German chancellor is terrified of dogs after being bitten by one in 1995 and had this to say after the meeting: “I understand why he has to do this — to prove he’s a man.”

Koni has since died. (Merkel had an alibi — probably.)

Jean-Claude Juncker to the rescue

The European Commission president is now the proud owner of Caruso, a mongrel terrier who was rescued from “certain death” at a Spanish dog pound. Caruso (named after “CSI: Miami” actor David, maybe) replaces Plato, another rescue dog who died recently, as Juncker’s canine companion.

But what should have been a heartwarming story of man saves dog has taken a political twist because, according to the Telegraph, the journey to fetch Caruso from a Bavarian dogs’ home was undertaken at taxpayers’ expense. The swine!

Rumors that the British government is planning to kill all European breeds of dog after Brexit were unconfirmed at the time of going to press.

Panda gifts

The Chinese used pandas to smooth international tensions for years. After U.S. President Richard Nixon traveled to Beijing in 1972 to open diplomatic relations with China, the United States was sent Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, who lived in the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington for decades. Nixon reciprocated Chairman Mao Zedong’s gift, sending two musk ox in return.

Two years after Nixon’s visit, British Prime Minister Edward Heath requested a pair of pandas for the U.K., and duly received them — Ching-Ching and Chia-Chia. But by 1984, the Chinese had decided not to give pandas as gifts, but rather to offer them on 10-year loans, and with annual payments meant to be used for panda conservation.

Edward Heath feeds Chia-Chia in London Zoo, 1974 | Simon Dack/Keystone/Getty Images via Hulton Archive

Frisky beavers

In the 17th century, the U.K. granted the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada the right to exploit resources around the bay. The fee was two elk skins and two black beaver pelts to be presented during every visit by the British royalty (which is also how Jacob Rees-Mogg pays his nanny).

In 1970, however, the company tried something different and gave Queen Elizabeth two live beavers. Apparently, the animals became rather frisky during the ceremony, and the queen asked what the two were doing. The governor of Hudson’s Bay, Viscount Amory, reportedly responded that he had no idea, as he was a bachelor.

Bear hugs

Tony Abbott’s smartest move as Australian prime minister may well have been to bring out the big, cute guns during the 2014 G20 summit — koalas.

Abbott and Obama koalas ahead of the first G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia | Andrew Taylor/G20 Australia via Getty Images

World leaders lined up to be photographed with one of the koalas — from Barack Obama to Merkel, from Juncker to Putin.

Alas, Australia’s opposition parties weren’t quite so happy, claiming that marsupial hugging at various events including the G20 cost the taxpayer $400,000 (€252,000).


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Trump seeks to split EU as fight intensifies over Iran nuclear deal

Plan to hold Middle East conference in Warsaw irks Brussels.

It’s Warsaw and Washington against the big EU powers, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration pushes to kill the Iran nuclear deal — and to exploit European divisions on foreign policy in the process.

Of all the damage Trump has done to transatlantic relations, no issue has divided the U.S. from its European allies as starkly as the dispute over the Iran accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The fight is about to heat up.

EU officials this month plan to approve and register in France a “special purpose vehicle” aimed at helping European companies to continue doing business with Iran and circumvent the sanctions Trump unilaterally reimposed on Tehran last year.

Final preparations for the special purpose vehicle will be discussed by EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels on Monday, where they are also working to develop broader conclusions on Iran to be adopted at an EU leaders’ summit in March.

In Poland, some analysts said the government was largely caught off-guard by the Trump administration’s plans.

The refusal of the EU, and the three European guarantors of the JCPOA — France, Germany and the U.K. — to fall in line behind Trump’s pullout from the deal has enraged the president and his administration.

Escalating the dispute, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has railed recently against the EU and other multilateral organizations, will hold a conference in Poland next month on Middle East peace that will put a spotlight tensions between Warsaw and Brussels, including on foreign policy.

The European Commission has initiated so-called Article 7 disciplinary proceedings against Poland over alleged rule-of-law violations.

The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, has already said that she will not attend the conference in Warsaw, citing a scheduling conflict. And EU officials said they had not yet decided if lower-level officials would be sent in her place.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo | Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

Asked about the conference, a spokeswoman for the European External Action Service, the bloc’s foreign policy arm, was noticeably unenthused. “As far as we understand this is a conference on the Middle East, the exact title says it’s the ministerial to promote a future of peace and security in the Middle East,” said the spokeswoman. “So I don’t have a particular further comment on it.”

While Warsaw seems an unlikely location for such a gathering, the conference scheduled for Feb. 13-14 will give Pompeo a platform to press the Trump administration’s Middle East policies ahead of the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany. Pompeo toured the Middle East in recent days, including a stop in Cairo where he gave a speech bashing Iran and former U.S. President Barack Obama as two of the main causes of instability in the region.

Poland is expected to describe plans for the conference during Monday’s meeting of foreign affairs ministers. EU diplomats declined to comment publicly on the event, referring questions instead to their Polish counterparts. But privately diplomats and officials expressed annoyance at what they described as a transparent effort by Warsaw to cozy up to Trump — at the evident expense of EU unity.

Iran has also reacted furiously to the conference, with its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, deriding the event as a “desperate anti-Iran circus.”

In Poland, some analysts said the government was largely caught off-guard by the Trump administration’s plans and was unwisely being drawn into a feud with little upside for Warsaw.

“We are in the position of being America’s foreign policy subcontractor,” said Marcin Zaborowski, of the Warsaw-based Visegrad Insight foreign policy think tank. He said that Pompeo’s announcement, which was first made during a Fox News television interview, had prompted a scramble by Polish officials to catch up with the American initiative.

“It was done and communicated in a terrible fashion,” Zaborowski said.

Polish diplomats were also called to account in Tehran, endangering ties that had warmed in recent years.

“Iran is a potential source of diversifying our energy away from Russia,” Zaborowski said. “That’s all been damaged now.”

Some U.S. diplomats have mocked the EU’s efforts to preserve the Iran deal, saying it is only a matter of time before the agreement collapses.

After its top diplomat in Tehran was summoned to a meeting at the Foreign Ministry, the Polish government issued a statement defending its decision to host the conference. “In our view, the international community has the right to discuss various regional and global issues, and Poland [has the right] to co-organize a conference, whose goal is to develop a platform for actions promoting stability and prosperity in the Middle East region.”

The Polish government has offered Trump perhaps the most support of any EU country. And Polish officials have even pitched to Trump the idea of establishing a permanent U.S. military base in the country that they said might be named Fort Trump.

Trump has said he is “strongly considering” the idea.

The EU’s ability to push back on the U.S. sanctions is limited given that many companies are already complying for fear of losing access to the bigger and more lucrative U.S. market.

But the special purpose vehicle will preserve at least some economic activity, officials said, and it is viewed as an extremely important symbolic step for the Iranian government — allowing it to answer domestic critics who say that Iran should retaliate by abandoning the deal.

Some U.S. diplomats have mocked the EU’s efforts to preserve the Iran deal, saying it is only a matter of time before the agreement collapses. But European officials insist that the deal is serving its intended purpose of curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program and cite more than a dozen inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency that have found Iran in compliance.

Jan Cienski contributed reporting.


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Why a UK general election is more likely than you think

A snap election didn’t work out so well last time but Theresa May could find herself with little choice.

There is talk in Westminster of Theresa May calling an imminent election to break the Brexit deadlock.

That might seem highly unwise, to put it mildly. Last time May did that in 2017 (after promising not to) her party was punished by voters and lost its majority in parliament. With U.K. politics now in deep crisis over a Brexit deal that May herself negotiated, would she really offer voters the chance to deliver the coup de grâce?

Downing Street denies an election is coming but the prime minister may find herself with little choice: Call an election now or have one thrust upon her later.

MPs that have war-gamed the next few phases of the Brexit drama believe that the government is now penned in, unable to move in any direction without stumbling over a trip-wire that triggers a general election.

“Whatever happens, at some point we’re looking at the government losing a vote of confidence,” one senior Tory MP said.

Theresa May’s triggering of the 2017 general election did not go well for her party | WPA pool picture by Dylan Martinez/Getty Images

Their reasoning? The first thing to note is that, barring a dramatic change in Brussels’ stance, there can be no Brexit deal without the Northern Irish backstop in it.

Second, May’s confidence-and-supply partners the Democratic Unionist Party are unshakeably opposed to the backstop. Leader Arlene Foster said in November that if May’s deal were to pass, her party would “revisit” the confidence-and-supply agreement that keeps the government afloat.

A party spokesman confirmed to POLITICO that this remains the case. If the backstop is “foisted on us then that would be a breach of the confidence-and-supply agreement” because, “central to that agreement was a commitment to strengthening the Union.”

The DUP’s 10 MPs were the difference between May winning this week’s confidence vote and losing it. While the party does not explicitly say they would vote against the government if a Brexit deal with a backstop passes and Labour subsequently tries another vote of confidence, that is the clear implication of their position.

Even if the DUP didn’t take the plunge of opposing the government in a vote of no confidence, without their support the Conservatives would find it impossible to govern so may need a general election anyway.

Either the Brexit deal falls, or her majority does.

The stance of Brexiteer Tories in such a situation is uncertain. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the backbench Brexiteer caucus, has said he will never oppose May in a confidence vote. Others may take a different view.

Either way, there is a very real possibility that a Brexit deal (with the backstop) securing a parliamentary majority will paradoxically spell the end of May’s governing majority.

Either the Brexit deal falls, or her majority does. They cannot co-exist.

This comes with the caveat that the DUP might be bluffing. But this is a party that places the union of the United Kingdom above all else. It is possible they would accept the risk of Labour winning any election that followed, believing that a softer Brexit that negates the need for the backstop might be the outcome. DUP “sources” told the Times today that the party is prepared to countenance a softer Brexit, so long as there is no threat to the union although Arlene Foster insisted the story is “inaccurate.

There would also be the option, in the 14 days between a successful no-confidence vote and an election being called, that the DUP could offer their support to any new Tory leader who pledged to take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal. That’s another way to kill the backstop.

DUP heavyweights Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster: Maintaining their support is crucial to Theresa May | Leon Neal/Getty Images

But in that scenario, a would-be Brexiteer Tory leader would struggle to put together a majority because pro-EU Conservatives would not countenance a no-deal exit.

Which brings us to the other trip-wire currently lying in May’s path.

If she has calculated all of the above, and chooses instead to go for no-deal in order to avoid losing the DUP, then she may lose Tory MPs who want to call off Brexit or leave with a softer Norway-style deal. In the confidence vote that Labour would inevitably call in such a scenario those Tories may vote against their own government.

Backbencher Nick Boles has already suggested he would do as much and others would likely follow. If enough did, the result: the collapse of the government and, most likely, a general election.

So deal or no deal, an election seems increasingly probable. Despite her protestations to the contrary, the prime minister may decide it is better to call one on her own terms.

This insight is from POLITICO’s Brexit Files newsletter, a daily afternoon digest of the best coverage and analysis of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Read today’s edition or subscribe here.


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Boris Johnson denies raising Turkey in Brexit campaign

The former Foreign Secretary called for a Brexit to ‘bring this country together.’

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson came under fire for claiming at an event in Staffordshire Friday that he did not raise fears about Turkish immigration during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.

Johnson who was a leading figure in the official Leave campaign, was giving a speech on Brexit at JCB’s headquarters in Staffordshire.

In a Q&A after the speech he was asked repeatedly about the way the Leave campaign raised the issue of Turkish accession to the EU and potential future immigration from that country. He said: “Actually, I didn’t say anything about Turkey in the referendum … Since I made no remarks, I can’t disown them.”

When a journalist persisted with the question Johnson said: “I didn’t make any remarks about Turkey, mate.”

Political opponents and campaigners for a second referendum on EU membership were quick to seize on the remarks. They pointed out that he and follow Brexiteer Michael Gove wrote to then Prime Minister David Cameron on the subject. They wrote: “Others assert that the UK has ‘a veto’ on Turkish accession. This claim is obviously artificial given the government’s commitment to Turkish accession at the earliest possible opportunity.

He was also quoted as saying, “I am very pro-Turkish but what I certainly can’t imagine is a situation in which 77 million of my fellow Turks and those of Turkish origin can come here without any checks at all. That is mad — that won’t work.”

In his speech, Johnson addressed the Brexit impasse in Westminster and called for an EU exit that will “bring this country together.” But when asked whether he would back Prime Minister Theresa May in a snap election if there was one, he declined to say.

Johnson claimed the best way to reconcile a divided Britain is to “address the issues” which led 52 percent of the electorate to vote Leave in the June 2016 referendum.

“We can stop going on miserably about the whole process of Brexit and start talking about what Brexit can do to for the people of this country and bring this country together,” the former foreign secretary said.

He said government should “devolve fiscal power to big cities and the regions” in order to address discrepancies in British attainment and productivity.

“I’m not going to pretend that there won’t be challenges and I’m not going to pretend that there won’t be changes that we have to deal with, of course there will be, but I say to everybody who believes in the democratic freedoms of this country, we are more than up to it.”

Labour MP Virendra Sharma dismissed Johnson’s claim he had not spoken about Turkey during the referendum campaign. “[Johnson is] now trying to act the great liberal by championing migration, after shamelessly pushing anti-Turkish messages as a leader of the Vote Leave campaign,” he said.

“It’s time to stop giving his ill-thought through ideas oxygen, and hand the Brexit decision back to the public through a people’s vote.”


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Nigel Farage might run for European Parliament again

Former UKIP leader wants to ‘make sure that there is a political party with a list that I can be part of.’

Former United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said Friday he would contest as an MEP for a new political party if Article 50 were extended and the U.K. participates in the upcoming European Parliament election.

“I’m looking at various political options,” Farage told the BBC. “If this [extension] happens, I will make sure that there is a political party there with a list that I can be part of.”

Farage quit UKIP at the end of last year and will not run for the same party again.

Farage earlier told Sky News he believes an extension of Article 50 is “the most likely outcome of all.”


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Germany to UK: We will miss you

Last-minute plea letter signed by MPs, senior figures from the industry and artists urged Brits to remain in EU.

The heads of Germany’s main political parties plus leading figures from business, sport and the arts wrote an open letter to the U.K. imploring the country “from the bottom of our hearts” to reverse Brexit.

In the letter, published in The Times Friday, the “German friends” write that “without your great nation, this Continent would not be what it is today.”

The signatories include conservative leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who succeeded Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU) as well as her opposite number Andrea Nahles of the center-left (SPD).

Also on the list are Tom Enders, the CEO of Airbus, Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Reiner Hoffmann, president of the German Trade Union Confederation.

“After the horrors of the Second World War, Britain did not give up on us. It has welcomed Germany back as a sovereign nation and a European power,” they wrote. “This we, as Germans, have not forgotten and we are grateful.”

“Britain has become part of who we are as Europeans,” they wrote, adding, “We would miss the legendary British black humour and going to the pub after work hours to drink an ale. We would miss tea with milk and driving on the left-hand side of the road. And we would miss seeing the panto at Christmas.”

“But more than anything else, we would miss the British people — our friends across the Channel,” they wrote.

Other signatories included pianist Igor Levit; Jens Lehmann, former Arsenal and German national soccer team goalkeeper and Campino, lead vocalist with Die Toten Hosen.


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Europe’s wackiest polling stations

From a Pacific island to jail, there are some unusual places where votes will be cast in the EU election.

What do submarines, high-security prisons and tropical islands have in common? They’re all places where you might catch a European voting in May’s EU-wide parliamentary election.

Here are the most surprising places voters will be casting their ballots:

1. The far east

The EU’s easternmost point on the Continent might lie on a small island in the Finnish lake of Virmajärvi. But travel some 14,125 kilometers further east and you’ll come to the island collectivity of Wallis and Futuna, a French territory in the South Pacific that is home to 12,000 citizens who can also vote in the European election.

Starting in 2004, all inhabited French overseas departments and collectivities counted as one constituency, granting its 1.5 million registered voters the right to elect three deputies to the European Parliament. But since the French National Assembly abolished the Overseas Territories constituency last May, it is now up to France’s political parties to decide whether or not to include candidates from overseas territories on their lists for the European election.

2. The Indian Ocean

Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 800,000, is the EU’s southernmost inhabited region. The electoral campaign ahead of the European vote is “in principal” no different from “what is done on the national level,” says Younous Omarjee, an MEP from Réunion voted into the European Parliament in 2014. But the issues that strike a chord with voters are usually different, he concedes, citing sugar and fishing as dominating debate on the island.

Britain might be leaving the EU, but a large number of people across the Channel will still be voting in the next European election.

The last European Parliament election elicited little interest in France’s overseas territories, with turnout dropping to a record low of 17 percent, according to Radio New Zealand. Still, the islands have a better track record than some EU countries: In Slovakia, only 13 percent cast a ballot in the 2014 election.

3. The high north

In Finland’s least densely populated region, people often have to travel “hundreds of kilometers” on election day to cast their ballots, says Mika Riipi, Lapland’s regional governor.

With a density of 17 inhabitants per square kilometer, Finland has the third-lowest population density in Europe, after non-EU countries Iceland and Norway. Lapland is home to some 180,000 people — and an equal number of reindeer — living on 99,000 km².

Some chose to vote ahead of time by dropping off a ballot at a nearby pick-up point several weeks before the election. Around 30 to 40 percent of Finns chose to mail in their votes early in the last election, according to Riip, who adds the number of people doing so “is growing.”

Finland’s Lapland region is home to as many reindeer as it is people | Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

4. War zones

When it comes to voting while serving in the military, national authorities set the rules.

Members of the German military, for example, can only vote via mail. “The armed forces will take care [of the paperwork], so everybody has the appropriate papers available at time of the vote,” says Christian Scherrer, a spokesperson of Germany’s defense ministry.

For anyone stationed on a submarine, this system makes voting a little more challenging. Voting has to be done far enough in advance that “it will be back in Germany on the appropriate time,” says Scherrer, recalling having had to send ballots from a foreign port “four or five weeks” before the election date.

5. Border town

How and when to vote is perhaps most confusing in the Dutch town of Baarle-Nasseau, also called Baarle-Hertog. This small town in the south of the Netherlands contains 22 small exclaves of Belgium, some of which also contain Dutch counter-enclaves.

Practically speaking, this means that some streets are divided by a curved border made up of white crosses and markings that tell you whether you are currently standing in the Netherlands or in Belgium. In one case, a resident was told to pick a country — the border went straight through his front door.

The zig-zagging boundary also means that the town’s 8,000 residents will vote at different times and using different ballots. The Dutch will head to the polling station on May 23, followed three days later by their Belgian neighbors.

Estonia, often touted as the continent’s most digitally advanced country, is the only EU country where nationals can vote online.

Turnout is also radically different depending on where you live in this small town. Because voting is compulsory in Belgium, turnout on the Belgian side is high — almost 90 percent. In the Dutch parts of town, meanwhile, only 37 percent showed up to vote in the last European election.

6. Online

Estonia, often touted as the continent’s most digitally advanced country, is the only EU country where nationals can vote online. According to the government, a third of Estonians use the so-called “i-Voting” system launched in 2005.

It’s a time-saver for those who don’t want to spend time queuing at a local polling station, but also a useful tool for indecisive voters — citizens can change their vote as many times as they like until voting closes, with only their final choice taken into account.

7. In prison

Among the half a million people incarcerated in prison systems across the bloc, a large proportion are eligible to determine the make-up of the next European Parliament.

Their ability to vote depends on their location and the crime committed, after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2012 that every country has the right to legislate its own rules on voting rights for prisoners — providing they don’t instate a blanket ban.

A guard walks down a corridor in a French prison. In France, prisoners may vote if they meet certain critiera for eligibility | Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images

In at least 18 European countries, including Denmark, Finland, Spain and Sweden, there are no constraints on prisoners who want to vote. In Germany and France, a prisoner’s eligibility depends on the crime committed or the length of the sentence. People sentenced in Germany for crimes that target the integrity of the state, such as terrorists, are barred from voting, for example.

8. The United Kingdom 

Britain might be leaving the EU, but a large number of people across the Channel will still be voting in the next European election. Around 6 percent of the U.K. population — some 3.7 people — are citizens of another EU country, according to data from the British office of national statistics.

Just under 1 million are Polish nationals, making Poles the largest European community in Britain. They’re followed by an estimated 433,000 Romanians and 337,000 Irish nationals.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting to this article. 


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