Article 39 - Right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament
Key facts of the case:
Mr. Kalda, sentenced to life imprisonment, applied to be registered as a voter for the European Parliament elections in spring 2015. The Märjamaa parish secretary did not register him as according to the European Parliament Elections Act (EPEA) art. 4 (3)(2) and 20 (3). He made a complaint to the Administrative Court stating that this regulation is contrary to art. 39 (2) of the Charter, and art. 3 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR.
The County Court dismissed the application. The District Court granted the appeal and set aside the art. 20 (3) of the EPEA as it is incompatibile with the law of the European Union. The District Court found that the general prohibition to vote for persons convicted violated art. 3 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR; art. 6 (3) of the TEU; art. 39 of the Charter; and the Decision of the Council 76/787/ECSC. It, however, did not grant the applicant the right to vote, as the precise regulation of the right to vote were to be left to the Parliament. Both Mr. Kalda and the Märjamaa parish appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court granted the appeal of the Märjamaa parish and dismissed the appeal of Mr. Kalda; it partially annulled the decision of the District Court. The Supreme Court found that the District Court did not have to evaluate abstractly whether the rights to vote is in compliance with relevant international obligations. Constitutional Review in Estonia is possible only in concrete cases; there is no abstract right to review. Therefore, the courts can not abstractly evaluate the constitutionality and compatibility of national law with EU law. It also found that as the EU law does not regulate the rights to vote of the convicted criminals, this competence is left to the national legislator. Limiting the voting right of a person convicted to life imprisonment does not violate any of the regulations mentioned above.
13. The Chamber, taking into account the accused, does not see the contradiction between the EPEL art. 4 (3) p. 2 and art. 20 (3) p. 1 and the EU law referred to. There is no conflict between the legal acts when there is a mere abstract difference of principles or value judgments.
TFEU art. 6 is not a relevant norm in the current dispute as it does not relate to the elections of the European Parliament. In accordance with the substance of the decision, the District Court had in mind art. 6 (3) of the TEU, according to which basic rights as protected by the ECHR are part of general principles of EU law.
According to art 39 (1) of the Charter, every citizen of the Union has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament in the Member State in which he or she resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State. Para. 2 of the same provision provides that the members of the European Parliament shall be elected by direct universal suffrage in a free and secret ballot, the same is provided in the Decision of the European Council of 20 September 1976, 76/787/ESCC art 1 (3) art 1 (3).
These provisions do not regulate the rights of the persons convicted of crimes and do not prohibit the member states to set limits to the right to vote. EU law does not give detailed regulation of the elections. This means that the organisation of the elections of the European Parliament, as well as setting limits on the rights to vote, is in the competence of the member states. As an exception, the Council Directive 93/109/EC establishes a regime according to which the persons who live in a member states whose citizenship they do not have, can vote and stand as a candidate in the elections of the European Parliament. However, this is not a case here.