Jiri Dienstbier

Dienstbier considers giving foreigners right to vote

Minister says those with residence permits should be given a chance to participate in decision-making process

Prague, March 28 (ČTK) — Foreigners with a long-term stay in the Czech Republic who are from the countries outside the European Union may perhaps be granted the right to vote in local elections, Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Social Democrats, ČSSD) told the Czech News Agency Friday.

Immigrants’ participation in the decision-making process in their place of residence would contribute to their integration, Dienstbier said.

He said he wanted to open a debate on the voting right to immigrants and amendments to election laws.

At the end of last year, some 441,500 foreigners had a legal stay in the Czech Republic — 238,900 of them a permanent stay.

“There is the question of whether those living here for five to 10 years should be given the right to vote at least on the local level,” Dienstbier said.

“If we want to integrate foreigners who live here for a long time, giving them a bigger share in the decision-making process or at least a better reaction to the problems they encounter here can only help,” Dienstbier said.

He said it was in the Czech Republic’s interest to try to integrate immigrants as well as possible, he added.

“As they have evidently behaved in keeping with regulations and fulfilled their duties, they have proved they are to a certain degree integrated into society,” Dienstbier said.

“Why should they not be given the opportunity to take part in the decision making?” he added.

Dienstbier said people with permanent stay mostly remained in the Czech Republic and considered it their new home. As only Czech citizens can currently vote in the Czech Republic, election laws would have to be amended, he added.

Compared with advanced European and North American countries, the Czech Republic only has mediocre conditions for foreigners’ integration. According to the international Migrant Integration Policy Index, the Czech Republic occupied the 23rd place from among the 23 assessed countries, having gained 46 out of 100 points.

The Czech Republic was last but one when it came to foreigners’ participation in politics and is one of the strictest countries when it comes to the granting of citizenship in the EU.

The ratio of the immigrants who have become citizens to the total number of foreigners in the Czech Republic is the lowest of any country in the EU.

The EU average is 23 granted citizenships per 1,000 foreigners a year, but in the Czech Republic it is only four.

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