'I'm voting to keep out the far right'

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Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKip) has been trying to deflect claims that his party is racist. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP
12:48 CEST+02:00
Polls across Europe suggest citizens will snub voting in the European Elections in their droves. But The Local is hearing a different story, at least from some Europeans living in Italy.

Perhaps the fervent campaigning has caught their attention in recent days, or maybe those in the pro-European camp have made them feel guilty about not exercising their right to vote.

Either way, most of the people The Local spoke to will vote, or at least would have done if they were able to.

A postal blunder meant dozens of expatriates with Italian residency in Rome missed the deadline for registration, Gareth Horsfall, a financial planner at Spectrum IFA Group, told us.

“When I received the letter about voting, I realized it was three days after the cut-off date,” said Horsfall, who is from the UK but has lived in Italy for over ten years.

“I went to try and register but I was told it was too late, the fault was mine, and that I can’t vote.”

Dozens of other expats are in the same predicament, he said.

As a resident in Italy, Horsfall would have voted among the Italian candidates vying for 73 seats in the European Parliament.

“Living in Italy, I feel more like a European,” he said.

“So what happens in Italy, particularly with regards to the economy, is very important to me. I wanted to have a say in who’s going to manage the country.”

Katy Lee, a consultant in Rome, has registered to vote in the UK.

Even though she lives in Italy, politics at home and in the wider European community matter to her.

“Maybe as a Brit, I’m unusual in that respect, but I do care about the EU,” she said, citing a report last year that revealed Europe brings each UK household £3,000 (€3,700) a year.

“I did the Erasmus programme, so I’ve experienced the benefits of being part of Europe and can see the other advantages it brings.”

As the UK Independence Party (UKip), which is predicted to beat the Conservatives in the elections, tries to deflect claims of racism, Lee is also worried about the rise of far-right parties in Europe.

That worry stems from the fact MEPs from the British National Party (BNP) - the most successful far-right party in the UK’s history - won seats in the 2009 European elections, with one, Nick Griffin, hailing from her home constituency of the North West.

Support for the party has diminished in recent years, so that success is not expected to be repeated.

Either way, Lee is determined to use her vote to help keep the party out.

“The rise of the far right is another reason I’m voting,” she said.

“It’s so important to have a balance of parties. It’s also about having a say on rules made at a European level.”

Kevin, an Irish barman, said he would have voted had he realized Irish people were allowed to vote in Italy. As an Irish citizen in another member state, he is entitled to vote in the elections, but for Italy only and not for any election or referendum at home.

Still, despite Ireland enduring tough austerity measures after a €67.5 billion European bailout, he believes the country needs the EU. To Ireland’s credit, it was the first stricken state to exit the rescue programme late last year, three years after receiving the loan.

“A lot of Irish people have no time for the EU, but it would be madness to leave it,” he said, adding that Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economic boom would never have happened had it not been for EU grants, which helped fund the country's infrastructure and make it a more enticing place for foreign business.

His colleague Ilyich, also from Ireland, said he too would have voted.

“But most of my friends wouldn’t have done,” he added.

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“They don’t think of it as something they can change.”

These thoughts echo those of Cameron Ferguson, a Scottish student living in Italy.

“I use my vote as much as I can [in elections at home], but as a Brit, it feels hypocritical to be voting on something that a lot of Brits don’t want to be a part of,” he said.

“Also, voting in Scotland as part of the UK makes no difference, so voting in the EU will make no difference at all. It’s hard enough to get people to engage in local elections, let alone ones that feel far removed.”

A British businesswoman in Milan, who asked not to be named, said that despite living in continental Europe for ten years, she doesn’t feel any closer EU politics.

“And I haven’t organized by vote,” she added.

“Italian life is already pretty bureaucratic and it was one extra procedure I couldn't bring myself to pursue.”

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