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Italian expats report irregularities with mail-in ballots

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Good morning and welcome to Europe Express.

Estonia may be leading the way in allowing its citizens online voting but Italy is still firmly rooted in the 20th century, using postal services to send out ballots for its expats to fill out for Sunday’s elections. We will examine some of the issues and how important they may prove to be.

Meanwhile, in Brussels today, the European Commission begins its first round of so-called confessions, consulting EU ambassadors on the next round of sanctions against Russia before submitting the latest draft law text. But don’t expect a series of one-on-one Catholic-style sessions, these gatherings are held throughout the weekend in groups of 4-5 ambassadors and committee officers.

The EU-Canada trade agreement is now five years old (although not all member states have ratified it) and we will update you on the effects of the pact.

And a little housekeeping: Tony Barber is off this week, leaving tomorrow’s Europe Express Weekend in the capable hands of FT Brussels bureau chief Sam Fleming.

Irregularities when voting by post

Many of Italy’s 5 million residents abroad have reported serious problems with the postal voting system ahead of Sunday’s election, he writes. Marianna Giusti in London.

Missing ballots, attempted voter fraud, unresponsive consulates, and even postal votes received with incorrect instructions are among the most common complaints about the systemwhich was introduced in 2001 and is available in 200 countries on five continents, but has not been upgraded to the digital age.

More than 400,000 Italian residents live in the UK alone. Jamil De Dominicis, 32, from Trieste, never received his ballot in the mail and had to queue for an hour and a half at the Italian consulate in London on Wednesday to receive and release his duplicate. “There must have been at least 50 people in line who had the same problem as me,” he told Europe Express.

The difficulties were compounded by the timetable for collecting the duplicates from the consulate, with appointments available only when expats were on duty. “Voting is a democratic process that should be facilitated,” De Dominicis says of his experience, “it shouldn’t be that hard.”

In Spain, the ballots were delivered with the wrong instructions, referring to a referendum in June, and the correct instructions never arrived. Votes with wrong instructions were also reported in Washington, where the Italian consulate issued a formal apology in a letter and invited voters to follow instructions online instead.

If some found it difficult to cast their votes abroad, others were given the opportunity to cast more than one. In Brazil, which is home to more than half a million Italians, a teacher from Belo Horizonte was offered eight votes by letter from fellow Brazilian-Italians who had obtained their citizenship through their ancestry and were not interested in participating in the election. “If I wanted to, I could get dozens of votes by letter,” the teacher said Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “I just have to ask.”

Ying Zhang, 28, from Veneto, says she received two ballots addressed to former tenants at her London home. “No one contacted us to claim them,” she says, “anyone could cast it.”

In the 2018 elections, it was reported that mail votes received from South America in favor of center-left PD Democratic party candidate Adriano Cario bore the same calligraphy. In December 2021, Cario lost his senate seat after handwriting analysis revealed that the votes were cast by the same person.

While concerns about the integrity of postal voting abroad have been raised by candidates across the political spectrum, who consider it unconstitutional, major players such as Giorgia Meloni, Enrico Letta and Silvio Berlusconi have remained focused on their campaigns.

But the so-called foorized voting, a category that includes both foreign residents and Italian citizens voting in a jurisdiction other than their place of residence, make up about 10 percent of total voters — a significant proportion that could undermine the authenticity of Sunday’s result .

Chart du jour: Counter-intuitive banking

Line chart of TL per $ (daily low) with Turkish lira hits record low

The Turkish lira plunged yesterday after the country’s central bank cut interest rates for the second consecutive month, despite rampant inflation of more than 80 percent in August, writes Laura Pitel in Ankara.

Canadian Love Party

The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) — one of the few agreements that the EU has been able to implement recently — has provisionally entered into force five years ago this week, writes Andy Bounds in Brussels.

Most trade elements apply, although 11 of the 27 Member States have not yet ratified it due to food safety and environmental concerns. The Walloon regional parliament in Belgium has postponed the signing of Ceta for several months and the country has yet to ratify.

The European Commission has therefore been keen to promote its benefits, even hosting a glitzy anniversary event at a hotel in central Brussels on Wednesday with Canadian Ambassador to the EU, Ailish Campbell.

Meanwhile, committee chair Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have found time to celebrate together on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Companies had collectively saved €890 million in tariffs since Ceta came into effect and bilateral trade has reached €60 billion, commission officials said.

If we compare the four years before Ceta with the first four years after, EU exports to Canada grew by 22 percent, doubling the rest of the world. They will retain 700,000 jobs – an increase of 75,000.

Given the concerns of the agricultural sector over the deal, Commission officials were eager to talk about the successes: the EU exports more beef to Canada than sends its vast prairies to the EU. Brussels has banned meat from hormone-fed animals in Canada, and cheese producers, especially in Italy and France, have done well too. (Neither Rome nor Paris has ratified the deal.)

Sabine Weyand, director-general of the trade directorate-general, told the event that NGOs and others attacking the deal had failed to read the safeguards it contained. “If you criticize something, criticize what is there.”

She said the geopolitical situation had changed the debate somewhat. The Netherlands recently ratified Ceta after lawmakers there said the EU needed allies and resilient supply chains after the war in Ukraine. “We see a new dynamic [in ratifying],” she said.

Canada’s wheat crop should more than make up for the deficit in Ukraine this year, said Michael Scannell, deputy director general of the committee’s agriculture department. And Canada had sold EU fertilizers such as potash to replace lost supplies from Belarus and Russia.

A deal with high-income democratic Canada is one thing. However, the next deals the EU wants to submit for ratification, other than New Zealand, are with Mexico and Chile – and they have already been held up by concerns over cheap agricultural imports.

“They are frustrated with us. They will be the real test of whether we take global trade seriously,” said an EU diplomat.

What to watch today?

  1. So-called referendums begin in the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine

  2. Commission meets EU ambassadors to discuss sanctions against Russia

  3. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz receives Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Berlin

smart reading

  • EPC, what? With invitations sent yesterday to 17 non-EU countries to come to Prague for the inaugural summit of the European Political Community, Bruegel think tank looks at what can give meaning to this new formula, if it wants to be more than a one-off meeting.

  • Tensions in the Caucasus: Marie Dumoulin of the European Council for External Relations looks at the renewed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the EU’s failures to reach a peace agreement that both sides abide by.

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