By Christos ILIOPOULOS*
Until four years ago, the unthinkable was the status quo. The Greeks who lived outside of Greece could not vote in the general elections, unless they travelled to Greece to cast their vote! Until only a few years ago, Greek passport holders could not vote at the Consulate of Greece of their country of residence, despite having a proper Greek citizenship.
And then, the status quo was challenged, first by passing a law through the parliament stating that those who bear a Greek passport, could, at last, vote in the general elections of Greece by casting their vote at the nearest Consulate of the Hellenic Republic (Greece) of their place of residence. However, significant restrictions were imposed. The Greek citizen who lived in another country could vote only if he/she satisfied a few conditions, the most important of which were a) to be able to prove that the voter had actually lived in Greece two years in the last 30 or so years and b) that the voter had filed at least two tax returns at the Greek tax authority recently. The law which allowed Greek expatriates to vote from their country of residence was a breakthrough, but the conditions imposed made it difficult to exercise their voting rights in practice.
Finally, in July 2023, the Greek parliament was able to gather the minimum 2/3 majority (200 votes) required by the Greek Constitution to pass new legislation, voted by the New Democracy governing party along with three more parliamentary parties, which lifted all restrictions on the voting rights of Greek citizens who live abroad. According to the new law, all Greeks who live outside of Greece, can cast their vote in the general elections of Greece, by registering at the nearest Greek Consulate of the country where they live.
In order to vote, abroad or in Greece, you have to be a Greek citizen, meaning to have a proper registration with a Municipality in Greece, which allows you to own a Greek identity card (taftotita) and a Greek passport, which is actually a European Union (EU) passport. The Greek / European passport makes you eligible to travel, move and even establish yourself or your business in another EU country, practically without restrictions and without the need of a visa, of course. Within the EU, the right to move and establish from one country to the other works pretty much like the right to move from one state to another in the USA. This increased international legal validity of the Greek passport, combined with the “nostos”, or the strong feeling of homesickness all Greek expatriates (and very often, their foreign – born offspring) experience, has led to a surge of citizenship applications from many foreign residents, who are, or hope they are, entitled to the Greek passport.
Getting the Greek citizenship is not always easy and bureaucracy – free. You have to prove that at least one of your parents was born in Greece as a Greek citizen, or that one of your grandparents was born in Greece, provided your foreign – born parent is still in life and can claim the citizenship for himself/herself first, before you can apply. In some circumstances, you are able to claim the citizenship, even if you do not have a parent or grandparent born in Greece, (your Greek family was from Asia Minor or the Middle East etc.), or even if you have problems locating much needed birth and marriage certificates, or if name changes during the decades have cut the legal link between the original Greek ancestor’s name and your present name. If you can obtain birth and marriage certificates which all state the names of your parents (or even grandparents) in the same spelling, you have significant chances to obtain the citizenship. If not, your last chance could be to prepare a dossier strong enough to be allowed to have an interview with the Consul of Greece, where your aim would be to prove that you feel Greek, that you know about basic events of the Greek history, that you share aspects of the Greek culture and, in most cases, that you speak at least some Greek.
*Christos ILIOPOULOS, attorney at the Supreme Court of Greece , LL.M. www.greekadvocate.eu, e-mail: [email protected]