Election observer missions in action
Helping countries to run free and fair elections is an important component of the European Union’s external relations policy. Support includes the provision of technical assistance to electoral authorities and domestic non-partisan observers, as well as the deployment of EU election observation missions (EU EOM). These are organised by the European Commission with funding from the Union’s budget, and made up of experts and observers from Member States.
EU election observation missions do not just serve to assess election days but also observe the whole electoral process as a way of gauging the state of democratic development in a given country at a particular time. The EOMs can recommend measures for improvements to a country’s electoral processes. In addition to observing and reporting on the elections, the presence of EU observers can also enhance transparency and confidence in the process. They can also prevent conflict by deterring violence and help to keep a lid on fraud.
EU election observation is based on the principles of independence, impartiality, transparency, long-term observation and professionalism.
The EU has been active in election observation since 1993, although it also provided technical assistance to electoral processes as part of its general aid programmes prior to this date. In 2000, the Commission developed a standard methodology for election observation. This covers all phases of the election cycle: pre-election, election day, and immediate post-election.
EU election observation missions do not interfere in the organisation of the election itself, but collect and analyse factual information concerning the election process, and provide an independent public assessment. Since 2000, the EU has deployed 67 missions involving the participation of over 4 000 experts and observers.
How does the EU EOM proceed?
All EOMs are required to respect the following stages:
Selection of priority countries
The Commission identifies a number of countries where an EU EOM could be deployed, in consultation with the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
A mission is sent to the country to assess whether deploying an EU EOM is advisable, feasible and useful. The exploratory mission should also advise what conditions must be fulfilled by the host government in order for the EOM to be able to operate fully and credibly. The exploratory mission also proposes implementation arrangements.
Selection of the mission chief, core team experts and observers
After deciding to deploy a mission, the Commissioner appoints a chief observer, normally a member of the European Parliament. The experts of the EU EOM Core team are chosen on the basis of their experience from a pool of experts that the Commission has compiled based on a call for interest posted on its website.
Observers are picked by the Commission from a selection of candidates proposed by Member States. The European Parliament may also decide to send a separate delegation to observe the elections. This parliamentary delegation works closely with the chief observer and does not issue a separate assessment.
After the exploratory mission has made its recommendations, the EOM is deployed. The number of long and short-term observers in each mission largely depends on the size of the country and the number of polling stations that should or can be covered.
The elections are assessed against international standards, regional commitments undertaken by the host country and national laws.
The methodology developed in 2000 considers that when assessing the validity of an election, EU observers must consider all the relevant factors that affect the electoral process, including:
- The degree of impartiality shown by the election management body.
- The degree of freedom of political parties, alliances and candidates to organise, move, assemble and express their views publicly.
- The fairness of access to state resources made available for the election.
- The fairness of access for political parties, alliances and candidates to the media, in particular the state media.
- The registration of voters without discrimination on the basis of gender and racial or ethnic origin.
- Any other issue that concerns the essential freedom and fairness of the election.
- The conduct of polling and counting of votes as described in the electoral law.
A preliminary statement is then presented by the chief observer at a press conference shortly after election day (usually one or two days hence).
A final report contains the EOM’s conclusions and recommendations regarding the whole electoral process. It is delivered within a month of the EOM ending its activities on the ground. This report gives guidance for electoral reform and possible future assistance.
For further information
- The Commissions External Relations website offers a full briefing on the EU’s election assistance and observation activities. These pages also provide links to the latest news concerning various EOM missions.