Election observation, a mission for democracy

EU Election observation mission in Jordan: Observers in a polling station. © EU / Lindsey Leger 2016.

Election observation, a mission for democracy

Elections are one of the defining bases of a functioning democracy. Observing elections is a core EU activity aiming at the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide. It contributes to the strengthening of democratic institutions, building public confidence in electoral processes, helping to deter fraud, intimidation and violence. It also reinforces other key EU foreign policy objectives, in particular peacebuilding.

Key Facts:

  • Around 30 electoral missions of different types per year, including 8-10 full-fledged observation missions, with an annual budget of around €45 million.
  • Election observation provides a comprehensive, independent and impartial assessment of all aspects of the electoral process.
  • The regions benefitting from EU Election Observation Missions are Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean (areas not covered by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe).

EU Election Observation Missions assist partner countries in holding elections of a high standard. Election observation missions analyse the electoral process and provide an independent and impartial assessment of the elections. The methodology of the missions is based on a long-term approach, taking into account all aspects of an electoral process. The missions are grounded in international humanitarian law and provide recommendations to improve the democratic process around elections.

The list of priority countries for election observation is drafted by the European External Action Service in consultation with the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, Member States and the European Parliament. EOMs are conducted by the European Union in third countries upon invitation of the country holding the election. They are headed by a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), who acts as the mission’s Chief Observer. 

The ultimate decision to deploy an Election Observation Mission rests with the EU High Representative/Vice-President following the recommendations of the relevant Exploratory Mission. 

In cases when conditions for a full-fledged Election Observation Missions are not met, but it is nevertheless deemed useful to follow an election process, the EU may deploy an Election Expert Mission. Such missions consist of two to four experts deployed several weeks prior to an election.

The Service for Foreign Policy Instruments is the Commission service responsible for the administrative, financial and security aspects of electoral missions. The Service works closely with the European Parliament and Member States. After a decision to launch an Election Observation Mission, the Service ensures the operational and security needs of the mission through outside contractors, and recruits the Deputy Chief Observer, the Core Team of analysts and the Long-Term and Short-Term observers to be part of that mission.