EU global election assistance and observation strategy

EU global election assistance and observation strategy

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about EU global election assistance and observation strategy


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Human rights > Human rights in non-EU countries

EU global election assistance and observation strategy

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission of 11 April 2000 on EU election assistance and observation [COM(2000) 191 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


Everyone’s right to take part in the government of their country is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the case of elections, good governance requires an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework and a transparent and accountable election administration, in particular independent supervision and monitoring, that ensures respect for the rule of law. It is also essential for citizens to be informed and to participate throughout the electoral process.

The criteria set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the validation of observed elections are internationally accepted. Elections must be free, fair, genuine, held periodically and by secret ballot.

International election assistance consists of technical and material support for electoral processes, including assistance in establishing the elections’ legal framework, in registering political parties or voters and in providing civic education and training for local observers and journalists. Election assistance is complementary to election observation.

International election observation is intended to consolidate democracy, legitimise electoral processes, enhance public confidence, deter fraud, strengthen respect for human rights and contribute to the resolution of conflict. It is based on the principles of full coverage, impartiality, transparency and professionalism.

European Union (EU) support for human rights, democracy and the rule of law is established in the Treaties. Article 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union clearly states that the Union is founded on principles such as liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, which are fundamental values shared by all EU countries. Election missions are accepted as part of the EU’s mandate.

Lessons learned from experience

The communication reviews the lessons learned from EU assistance and observation missions between 1993 and 2000:

  • the Union needs a coherent strategy in this field;
  • observation missions must be careful in not legitimising illegitimate electoral processes;
  • better cooperation with and training of domestic observer groups need to be established;
  • some regional and local elections also need assistance and observation;
  • exploratory missions are needed before deciding to send observation missions;
  • election observation missions need to remain in place long enough to cover all stages of the electoral process;
  • assessing elections is a delicate exercise and should lead to recommendations for future actions;
  • mission spokespersons should always make a preliminary statement after polling and final proclamations only at the end of the electoral process;
  • EU actors in the field should always speak with one voice;
  • setting up a Commission unit dealing with elections in non-EU countries is advisable;
  • the EU decision-making procedure needs to be clarified and rationalised;
  • a coherent and transparent financing policy is needed;
  • coordination between the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament needs strengthening;
  • coordination with other international actors should be based on partnerships;
  • EU missions need to be made more visible;
  • the human resources involved in election observation and assistance must match the political objectives;
  • an accelerated formula for EU decision-making would be advisable;
  • comparable methods for the recruitment of observers would improve missions;
  • EU observers should receive better training and field guidance.

Recommendations for the future

The communication stresses that the Union needs to adopt an election assistance and observation strategy that:

  • allows for case-by-case decisions;
  • promotes the development of sustainable national structures;
  • promotes pluralism at a political level and in local civil society;
  • encourages partnership between European and local NGOs and local observers.

The decision to launch an EU election observation mission should be based on an evaluation of the mission’s advisability, viability and usefulness. The Council has drawn up criteria in this respect, which are set out in Annex III to the communication. This annex also lists the conditions required for observers to be able to perform their work.

The following criteria could provide a basis for deciding on the provision of election assistance:

  • a request for assistance from the government of the host country;
  • the general agreement of the main political parties and other partners;
  • the existence of previous EU political monitoring or development programmes;
  • an adequate time-frame;
  • freedom of movement;
  • access to information;
  • the safety of the technical assistance team.

The Commission is currently studying the advisability of setting up an election unit responsible for horizontal coordination of election observation and assistance, including prior planning and evaluation, in order to assist the geographical units and Commission Delegations and to liaise with the other institutions and organisations involved. This new team should make it easier for the Council, the Parliament and the Commission to reach agreement on electoral missions.

As regards the financing of missions, various ways of accelerating and simplifying decisions to commit funds and implement expenditure are being studied.

The communication considers that the agreed criteria for selection (Annex IV) and the code of conduct for EU observers (Annex III) provide a good basis for observer recruitment.

Guidelines for success

For election assistance and observation missions to be successful, the communication recommends taking account of the following aspects:

  • drawing up a clear mandate for the mission;
  • always starting with an exploratory mission;
  • setting up an EU field elections unit with a core team responsible for coordination;
  • sending technical assistance into the field sufficiently early;
  • producing regular mission reports;
  • training all EU observers using a common training programme;
  • working with other organisations in order to train observers;
  • deploying long-term observers two months before election day and keeping them in place until any electoral disputes have been resolved;
  • ensuring that all observers abide by the code of conduct.

In order to assess the outcome of an election, the communication advocates the use of the criteria set out in Annex III.

To improve visibility of the EU’s electoral activities, the communication suggests publishing information on these activities on the Internet, establishing good relations with the media, using relevant publicity material and including visibility into agreements with other partners.

Related Acts

European Parliament resolution of 8 May 2008 on EU election observation missions: objectives, practices and future challenges [Not published in the Official Journal].

Council Conclusions on election assistance and observation. Development Council – 31 May 2001 [Not published in the Official Journal].

The Council welcomes the communication and cites the principles by which EU support for elections should be guided: dialogue with the authorities involved, improving the confidence of the electorate in elections, preventing conflict and eliminating fraud. It stresses that a line needs to be drawn between election assistance and election observation. The Council also considers that the appointment of a chief observer from the European Parliament is advisable for each election observation mission. The action to be taken includes:

  • building institutional capacity, including framework agreements on election finance and political parties;
  • training of local personnel;
  • making citizens more aware of their right to vote;
  • setting up election sites;
  • supporting local civil society;
  • supporting the media.

A review of support for election processes is expected every three years.

European Parliament resolution of 15 March 2001 on the Commission communication on EU Election Assistance and Observation [Not published in the Official Journal].

The European Parliament welcomes the communication. It suggests that a European Parliament election coordination group is established, as well as calls on the Commission to prepare country strategy papers on election assistance and guidelines for evaluating election assistance. It recommends that overlaps between European and international missions should be avoided and proposes that a conference is organised with other actors in order to establish common working and assessment criteria. The European Parliament also considers that it is important to commit election assistance aid under the budget lines for each geographical area.

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