Taxation without representation

Brendan Boyle
7 min readMay 19, 2023

Millions of “foreigners” are left out in the polls every four years, including those who consider Spain to be “their country.”

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash

Like any small child in Spain, she’s often subject to random acts of kindness from strangers on the street. But before my daughter managed to stand on her own two feet, she was given a number. It began with a “Y.”

From that moment, the Spanish street and the Spanish State became two very different entities. Nine months old, she already had her NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) — the baby in the Pontevedra police station became a foreigner (extranjera) like her Irish father and Brazilian mother.

As a resident in Spain she will, of course, enjoy the many benefits that living here entails: free healthcare, decent and affordable education, good public transport, and the Mediterranean climate and diet.

She will eventually pay her taxes, but there’ll be a catch: she may not have the right to vote. It would mean not having a say on what happens to the money she contributes to the state. She could start her own business, create employment, and generate further wealth for the land of her birth, but the responsibility of electing those who dictate fiscal policies would be in the hands of others.

When a vote is a privilege

In Spain, only Spaniards and those with dual nationality can vote in general and regional elections. The rest of us tax-paying foreigners can only vote in the local municipal and European Parliament elections. So you can elect your local mayor and councillors and Spain’s representatives at a European level, but you ultimately have no say when it gets down to the serious stuff. It’s pay up and shut up.

The fourth General Election since I moved to Spain in 2016 will take place this December; I’ve had to put up with the incessant noise without having a voice. While voting restrictions for extranjeros are in the T&Cs for those of us who move here as adults, the idea of taxation without representation still jars.

Counter-arguments may point to complex issues such as national security and the fact that Spain is not an outlier in Europe with regards to its voting policies, but there is no rational argument in favour of the oppression that a particular cohort in…

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Brendan Boyle

Irish - living in Galicia. Write about Spain, its cities and culture; real people and places; current affairs. Supporter of real journalism.