The most surprising polling stations in Europe
From a Pacific island to a prison - these are the most unusual places to vote for in the European elections in May.
What do submarines, high-security prisons and tropical islands have in common? They're all places where you might catch a European voting in May’s EU-wide parliamentary election.
Here are the most surprising places voters will be casting their ballots:
The far east
The EU's easternmost point on the Continent might lie on a small island in the Finnish lake of Virmajärvi. But travel some 14,125 kilometers further east and you'll come to the island collectivity of Wallis and Futuna, a French territory in the South Pacific that is home to 12,000 citizens who can also vote in the European election.
Starting in 2004, all inhabited French overseas departments and collectivities counted as one constituency, granting its 1.5 million registered voters the right to elect three deputies to the European Parliament. But since the French National Assembly abolished the Overseas Territories constituency last May, it is now up to France's political parties to decide whether or not to include candidates from overseas territories on their lists for the European election.
The Indian Ocean
Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 800,000, is the EU's southernmost inhabited region. The electoral campaign ahead of the European vote is "in principle" no different from "what is done on the national level," says Younous Omarjee, an MEP from Réunion voted into the European Parliament in 2014. But the issues that strike a chord with voters are usually different, he concedes, citing sugar and fishing as dominating debate on the island.
The last European Parliament election elicited little interest in France's overseas territories, with turnout dropping to a record low of 17 percent, according to Radio New Zealand. Still, the islands have a better track record than some EU countries: In Slovakia, only 13 percent cast a ballot in the 2014 election.
The high north
In Finland's least densely populated region, people often have to travel "hundreds of kilometers" on election day to cast their ballots, says Mika Riipi, Lapland's regional governor.
With a density of 17 inhabitants per square kilometer, Finland has the third-lowest population density in Europe, after non-EU countries Iceland and Norway. Lapland is home to some 180,000 people — and an equal number of reindeer — living on 99,000 km².
Some chose to vote ahead of time by dropping off a ballot at a nearby pick-up point several weeks before the election. Around 30 to 40 percent of Finns chose to mail in their votes early in the last election, according to Riip, who adds the number of people doing so "is growing."
A boy peeks out a polling booth during a French municipal election on the French island of Reunion | Richard Bouhet/AFP via Getty Images
When it comes to voting while serving in the military, national authorities set the rules.
Members of the German military, for example, can only vote via mail. “The armed forces will take care [of the paperwork], so everybody has the appropriate papers available at time of the vote,” says Christian Scherrer, a spokesperson of Germany's defense ministry.
For anyone stationed on a submarine, this system makes voting a little more challenging. Voting has to be done far enough in advance that "it will be back in Germany on the appropriate time," says Scherrer, recalling having had to send ballots from a foreign port "four or five weeks" before the election date.
How and when to vote is perhaps most confusing in the Dutch town of Baarle-Nasseau, also called Baarle-Hertog. This small town in the south of the Netherlands contains 22 small exclaves of Belgium, some of which also contain Dutch counter-enclaves.
Practically speaking, this means that some streets are divided by a curved border made up of white crosses and markings that tell you whether you are currently standing in the Netherlands or in Belgium. In one case, a resident was told to pick a country — the border went straight through his front door.
The zig-zagging boundary also means that the town's 8,000 residents will vote at different times and using different ballots. The Dutch will head to the polling station on May 23, followed three days later by their Belgian neighbors.
Estonia, often touted as the continent's most digitally advanced country, is the only EU country where nationals can vote online.
Turnout is also radically different depending on where you live in this small town. Because voting is compulsory in Belgium, turnout on the Belgian side is high — almost 90 percent. In the Dutch parts of town, meanwhile, only 37 percent showed up to vote in the last European election.
Estonia, often touted as the Continent's most digitally advanced country, is the only EU country where nationals can vote online. According to the government, a third of Estonians use the so-called "i-Voting" system launched in 2005.
It's a time-saver for those who don't want to spend time queuing at a local polling station, but also a useful tool for indecisive voters — citizens can change their vote as many times as they like until voting closes, with only their final choice taken into account.
Among the half a million people incarcerated in prison systems across the bloc, a large proportion are eligible to determine the make-up of the next European Parliament.
Their ability to vote depends on their location and the crime committed, after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2012 that every country has the right to legislate its own rules on voting rights for prisoners — providing they don't instate a blanket ban.
A guard walks down a corridor in a French prison. In France, prisoners may vote if they meet certain critiera for eligibility | Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images
In at least 18 European countries, including Denmark, Finland, Spain and Sweden, there are no constraints on prisoners who want to vote. In Germany and France, a prisoner's eligibility depends on the crime committed or the length of the sentence. People sentenced in Germany for crimes that target the integrity of the state, such as terrorists, are barred from voting, for example.
The United Kingdom
Britain might be leaving the EU, but a large number of people across the Channel will still be voting in the next European election. Around 6 percent of the U.K. population — some 3.7 million people — are citizens of another EU country, according to data from the British office of national statistics.
Just under 1 million are Polish nationals, making Poles the largest European community in Britain. They're followed by an estimated 433,000 Romanians and 337,000 Irish nationals.
Burned Community centre received 10,000 books
The Community centre “Hristo Botev” in the village of Skrebatno, Garmen municipality, Blagoevgrad district, burnt at the end of last year, today marks the 100th anniversary of its foundation, said Emilia Kubisheva, secretary of the institution. After a large-scale campaign for book collection and construction of the Community centre building again, more than 10 000 books have been donated today.
The municipality will prepare the project for the new building, the State will help with funds. There is already a bigger donor from Plovdiv, whose roots are from the village, a collecting account is opened in one of the banks. "For the first of November there will be again a community center", assured Daniela Pideva, Mayor of Skrebatno, last night at the rally meeting.
The village has about 300 inhabitants and they are all categorical that they will help as they can to restore their Community centre, built by their ancestors and preserving Bulgaria during this century of existence.
The book collection campaign for the burnt-out community center was co-sponsored by the Kardzhali Radio, which provided more than 1,000 books, said el journalist Bozhidar Cholakov.
Consumer protection in the EU
Common European rules on defective products sold will apply whether the product is purchased online or on site. Defective goods will have to be repaired or replaced, or the client must get their money back, said Bilyana Tzarnoretchka, PR by the Bureau of the European Parliament - Sofia. Users shopping online or on site will have the same rights if they buy a defective product.
The Goods Sales Directive aims to ensure a high level of consumer protection in the EU and to create legal certainty for businesses wishing to sell their products in other Member States. It harmonises certain contractual rights such as the protection options available to users when the product is not working properly or is defective and how to use these options.
Goods with digital items (eg "smart" refrigerators, smartphones and televisions or digital clocks) are also covered by this directive. Consumers buying these products will be entitled to the necessary updates within a reasonable period of time based on the type and purpose of the goods and digital items.
This Directive also covers the remedies available to consumers, the warranty periods, the evidence requirements and the trader's obligations:
. in the case of a defective product, the consumer will have the right to choose whether the product is to be repaired or replaced without additional payment;
• the consumer will be entitled to an immediate reduction in the price or termination of the contract as well as to receive his money back in certain cases: for example if the problem is not remedied despite the trader's attempts if the repair is not made within the "reasonable time "or if the defect is too serious;
• The trader will be held responsible if the defect occurs within 2 years of receiving the product from the consumer. Member States may, however, introduce or continue to respect a longer warranty period in their national laws in order to maintain the same level of consumer protection that already exists in some countries;
• within one or two years after delivery, the buyer is not required to prove that the product has been defective (the evidence requirements are reversed in favor of the consumer).
For example, now that if a user discovers that a product he has purchased more than 6 months ago is defective and has asked the seller to repair or replace it, the user may be required to prove that this defect existed at the time of delivery. Under the new rules, within a period of one or two years, the consumer will be able to ask the seller to take action without having to prove that the defect existed at the time of delivery.
The Goods Sales Directive is accompanied by the Digital Content Directive, which was provisionally negotiated on 22 January 2019. They will be voted in plenary as a package.
Bulgaria at FITUR in Madrid
Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova opened the Bulgarian stand at the FITUR World Exhibition, the Press Center of the Ministry announced. The tourism forum takes place in the Spanish capital Madrid between 23 and 27 January. The event is organized for the 38th time. It hosts the largest Spanish tour operators and travel agencies and business representatives from hundreds of countries.
Bulgaria has traditionally taken part in the tourist exchange with an information stand. This year's exhibition area is 100 sq. M. Besides the Ministry of Tourism, another 10 exhibitors participate, including the municipalities of Varna and Veliko Tarnovo. The representatives of the business and the lovers will be able to get acquainted with the diverse and high quality tourist product offered by Bulgaria.
In the first 3 days of the fair, access is only for professionals. On weekends, the forum will be open to the public as well. Typically, tourists from Spain are looking for visits to Bulgaria related to nature and culture. They are also interested in urban trips, paying special attention to Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Koprivshtitsa and Bozhentsi.
FITUR is one of the largest tourist fairs in the world. Last year, 9672 companies from 165 countries took part in the forum.