Can you run for office in your local EU town council? It depends, Source: Depositphotos

Can you become EU city mayor if you’re not a citizen of the host country?

Can you become EU city mayor if you’re not a citizen of the host country?

The bloc’s common market also applies to political talent and opportunities, at least at the local level

It’s 2024 and citizens of the European Union have already been enjoying rights and freedoms, such as the freedom to move and reside in any of the other member states for many decades. Yet, come election time, many might still be unaware that they have the right to participate in the elections of their new home country – although that only applies to local elections.

What’s more, in many cases EU citizens have the right not only to vote for one of the offered candidates for mayors and councillors but also to run as such and to be elected for one of these offices, even if they don’t hold a citizenship of their country of residence.

It’s actually surprising that this has not become a fairly common practice yet – after all, the language barrier may occasionally be an issue for new residents. However, very recent history has already given us two examples of such situations taking place.

Timișoara and Rostock

The Hanseatic city of Rostock showed that choosing a foreigner as your mayor was totally OK when residents voted Claus Ruhe Madsen to the office in 2019. Mr Madsen originally hailed from Copenhagen and spent his formative years there as a young Danish man before moving to Germany in 1992, initially to Ruhr, before settling down in Rostock in 1998.

He didn’t apply for German citizenship (German law until recently did not permit dual citizenship) but that didn’t stop him from feeling right at home in the coastal city (the largest in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) and integrating rather well, running successful furniture and food service businesses.

It was suddenly in 2018 that he decided to enter political life since by then he surely knew enough about Rostock and its problems that may need rectifying. He won in the second round, becoming the first foreigner to serve as a mayor of a major German city. He ruled until 2022 and is now a Minister of Economic, Transport, Labour, Technology and Tourism in the regional government of Schleswig-Holstein – a German state different from the one where Rostock is located.

And then there’s the Romanian city of Timișoara, whose residents showed that a mayor doesn’t need to have lived decades residing there to be eligible to be their mayor. In 2020, they elected one Dominic Fritz, a German man from Baden-Württemberg, to the highest seat in the municipal government.

Mr. Fritz first came to the fifth-largest Romanian city in 2003 as a youth volunteer at a children’s hospice and fell in love with the place. Back then, Romania was still not part of the European Union.

However, he kept visiting and in 2015 even bought a flat in Timișoara. Parallel to that, he was developing an advisory role in German politics, even serving as chief of staff of former German President Horst Köhler. Keeping an eye on Romanian politics, too, he decided to become a member of the Save Romania Union, a liberal party which then fielded him as a candidate in the 2020 local elections. He won to become the only Romanian mayor who was not a citizen of the country.

Recently, Dominic Fritz announced that he’s also applied for Romanian citizenship stating that the only place that he found a community in this world was Timișoara.

Ultimately, it’s a member state’s choice

According to The Parliament magazine, the general EU legislation states that “Every citizen of the union has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections in the Member State in which he or she resides under the same conditions as nationals of that state.” 

However, there’s a caveat. Article 5 (3) of the Council Directive 94/80/EC states that ultimately, member states have the right to decide that only their nationals can occupy positions in local government. Such an instance we may find even within a country whose regions enjoy certain autonomy.

Case in point is Germany where Claus Ruhe Madsen wouldn’t have been allowed to run for mayor if he were residing in the State of Bavaria. Thus, if you’re an EU citizen living in another EU country, and you decide to venture into local politics do your research and find out if there are any obstacles to that.



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