Election observation is an essential component of European Union activities to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide. Election observation can contribute to strengthening democratic institutions, build public confidence in electoral processes and help deter fraud, intimidation and violence. Election observation also serves to reinforce other key European Union foreign policy objectives, notably peace-building. With these objectives in mind, the European Union has become a leading force in international election observation.
Since 2000 over 100 EU Election Observation Missions (EU EOMs) have been deployed to all continents, with the exception of the OSCE region. EU EOMs employ a long-term observation methodology in order to assess election processes against international standards and best practices for genuine democratic elections. The international obligations established by international and regional treaties to which the host country has agreed to be bound to include universal principles that apply to the conduct of elections, such as fundamental freedoms and political rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The EU EOM methodology for long-term observation was established on the basis of the content of the Commission Communication of 191 of 2000. This document, while reinforcing the EC commitment to provide technical and financial assistance to electoral processes, set the tone for a more coherent strategy on the overall notion of EU electoral support as guided by clear objectives and partnership principles with the host countries.
After the Communication 191/2000, the methodology has been refined over the years and described in the three successive versions of the Handbook for European Union Election Observation. The main principles are aligned with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation.
The EU observation methodology (described in the Handbook for European Union Election Observation, available here) is based on 7 main principles.
To ensure a consistent approach to election observation, the EU applies the same methodology in all countries where it observes elections. This criterion ensures that accurate and verifiable information on the conduct of a given electoral process and other indicators of the wider democratic environment are gathered systematically by an EU EOM. The use of commitments and obligations for democratic elections deriving from international and regional human rights instruments , as well as good practices for democratic elections, ensures that information gathered is assessed through a standard and impartial approach that is relevant and applicable to all countries observed. The assessment of a given electoral process does not involve comparison between individual countries observed.
The observation methodology comprehensively focuses on all aspects and stages of an election process. In their reports, EU EOMs will cover the following twelve areas of assessment:
Legal framework (including electoral system)
Party and candidate registration
Complaints and appeals
Human rights (including participation of women and minorities)
Role of civil society
Results and the post-election
The assessment work of an EU EOM is undertaken through the direct observation of electoral events by EU observers and analysis of information obtained from relevant documents and meetings with a broad range of national and regional election stakeholders. Observers are deployed in the capital city and regional locations across the host country to ensure that there is a balance of coverage of different regions, and urban and rural areas. Ideally, EU observers – consisting of a core team based in the capital and long-term observers (LTOs) based in regions across the host country – will be present from the opening of the campaign to the announcement of final results and the conclusion of any election-related complaints. Where electoral events such as the registration of voters and candidates takes place before EU observers are deployed, an assessment can still be made of relevant legal and procedural issues and, from the information an EU EOM receives from election stakeholders and election-day observation, the extent to which the law and procedures were properly implemented.
On Election Day, an EU EOM increases its coverage to observe voting and counting at polling stations. EU observers are deployed in mobile (rowing) teams throughout the host country, and each team visits a number of different polling stations (generally from 5 to 15 depending on the area) within its designated region.
EU election observers are obliged to be strictly impartial and not to show bias towards any side in an electoral process. They will base their findings only on accurate and verifiable information. The EU EOM will not accept offers of assistance or support that may compromise its independence or be perceived as partisanship. An EU EOM is independent in its findings and conclusions. Although there will be close cooperation with the EU institutions, an EU EOM will operate under a separate and distinct mandate from that of the European Union institutions involved and of its Delegation present in the country observed. An EU EOM will collaborate with other international election observers from organisations that have endorsed the Declaration of Principles but will only base its findings and conclusions on its own observations.
EU observers will not interfere in the election process. Where problems are observed, the EU EOM bring them to the attention of electoral authorities, but will not intervene to correct or otherwise directly influence the proceedings. EU observers will seek to have a courteous and constructive relationship with the electoral authorities and all electoral stakeholders. An EU EOM will report on the accuracy, transparency and timely delivery of election results only, not on the political outcome of the results. In its final report, an EU EOM will offer recommendations for improving the integrity and effectiveness of future electoral processes and the wider process of democratisation.
EU observers will respect the laws of the host country. An EU EOM will be deployed only after receipt of an invitation from the state and/or electoral authorities of the host country. Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between the European Commission and the host country are generally signed to outline the rights and responsibilities of both parties. The MoUs will include reference to the EU EOM’s mandate to act impartially and not to interfere in the electoral process. In return, the MoUs will guarantee that an EU EOM is able to enjoy the necessary conditions for effective and credible observation. These include:
Unimpeded access to all aspects of the electoral process and to all persons concerned with the election;
The freedom to operate without interference, including the freedom to issue public statements and reports;
The freedom of movement around the country and conditions that ensure the safety and security of EU observers;
The issuing of appropriate accreditation, which should be provided on a non-discriminatory basis;
Guarantees that there will be no adverse action against its national or foreign staff or others who assist the EU EOM with its work.
EU observers issue a public preliminary statement presented by the Chief Observer shortly after Election Day (usually within two days) at a press conference. The Chief Observer will also answer to questions posed in that occasion. A comprehensive final report is issued within two months of the completion of the election process. In addition, the EU EOM undertakes public outreach activities during the course of its deployment to raise public awareness and understanding of its presence, mandate and role.