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More than just a question of choice - 18/08/2009

EU election observer watching a woman insert her ballot paper into a box inscribed "Choice" © EC

One of the ways the EU promotes and supports democracy outside Europe is by observing elections abroad.

Europeans have become quite used to living in democracies with free and fair elections. However, this cannot be taken for granted everywhere in the world. The EU supports democracy in other countries by monitoring elections and providing organisational assistance.

Electoral assistance consists of technical or material support for the electoral process, for example to establish a legal framework for the elections or providing voting material and equipment. In the last five years, the EU has spent almost €400m on electoral assistance in over 40 countries.

Election observation involves monitoring the election through observers on the ground. Their presence adds credibility, strengthens public confidence in the electoral process and deters fraud. It also deters human rights abuses and helps resolve conflicts. Since 2000, the EU has deployed 67 missions with over 4 000 experts and observers.

When validating an election, the observers mainly consider the degree of impartiality shown by the election management body and the freedom of candidates and political parties to assemble and express their views. They also assess whether fair access is given to state resources and media, voters are registered without discrimination and polling and vote counting are fraud-free.

Currently, the EU is preparing a mission for the presidential and provincial elections in Afghanistan, which start on 20 August. In total, it is spending €40m on electoral monitoring and assistance for the Afghan electoral commission.

Past EU missions include monitoring the elections in Guinea-Bissau, Lebanon, Malawi and Ecuador, as well as deploying electoral experts to the Kurdistan regional elections in Iraq.

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