The EU is a globally recognised and credible actor in international election observation. Since 2000, the EU has deployed over 200 Election Observation Missions (EOMs) in more than 75 countries.
The support to democracy worldwide is not just consistent with the European Union’s fundamental principles: it is our clear interest, and a crucial tool for our foreign policy. Only a functioning democracy can address its citizen’s needs, meet their demands and fulfil their aspirations. EU Election Observation Missions enhance our engagement with partner countries, including in support of their efforts to fulfil their international human rights obligations.
Electoral observation is not just the task of one day and the quality of the electoral process has to be continuously reassessed and improved. A democratic election is incomplete without a level playing field, fair competition between candidates, freedom of expression, of assembly and association, the respect for human rights and a neutral and independent election management body. A vibrant civil society and diverse media landscape are also essential pre-requisites.
The European Union deploys EOMs to countries all around the world, with the exception of the regions covered by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). In the EU Member States, election processes are observed by the OSCE.
Why election observation is important?
An effective democratic system needs regular, inclusive, transparent and credible elections. This is why the Election Observation Missions (EOMs) and the election assistance programmes are a fundamental part of European Union’s action to promote democracies, human rights and civil society participation worldwide. The EOMs are the concrete manifestation of EU's commitment in this respect. The images of voters getting out of the polls – their forefingers marked with dark ink – have generated great hopes in many countries around the world.
The immediate goals of Election Observation Missions are to:
- strengthen confidence in the elections,
- deter fraud, and
- provide an informed and factual assessment of an election process.
The long-term objectives aim to:
- improve the overall election framework and the context in which elections are held;
- strengthen the independence and accountability of state institutions;
- enhance the resilience of partner countries through supporting good governance;
- mitigate the potential for election-related conflict.
Strong democratic institutions are vital to improve a country’s resilience: they can help prevent the next crisis, stabilise a war-torn area or defuse tensions before they erupt into armed conflict.
How does the EU observe elections?
Through the years, the EU has built up a strong legacy as a reliable partner for democratic consolidation.
Election Observation Missions (EOMs) provide a comprehensive, independent and impartial assessment of an electoral process according to international and regional standards for democratic elections.
An EOM assesses all aspects of the electoral process, including:
- its legal framework
- the equality of the vote
- the registration of voters and candidates
- the training of election staff
- voter education
- media coverage
- the campaign
- the preparations for the vote
- the appeals process
EOMs follow a long-term observation methodology, with Core Team experts and long-term observers arriving in the country several weeks before the Election Day and staying on in the country to follow counting and tabulation. On Election Day observers visit polling stations to assess the opening, voting, counting and aggregation of results. The observation is conducted according to the principles of independence, full coverage, impartiality, transparency, professionalism and non-interference in the process.
In its final report, the EOM offers recommendations to improve the integrity and effectiveness of future electoral processes and the wider process of democratisation.
EOM’s recommendations focus on a wide range of issues. From human rights, democratic institutions, freedom of the media to active and engaged Civil Society Organisations and an independent judiciary system to mention just a few.
On the long term, The European External Action Service, the Council, the European Commission and Member States systematically follow-up on the implementation of the recommendations made by EOMs, as well as of other reputable election observation groups, such as OSCE/ODIHR. The follow-up to EOM recommendations is an integral part of EU’s political dialogue with partner countries and informs governance and electoral assistance projects. The EU is a leading global actor in providing electoral assistance. EU election support constitutes a significant contribution to the promotion of governance and development objectives.
More information on election assistance is available on the INTPA Website.
Composition of Election Observation Missions
European Election Observation Missions are led by a Chief Observer and are made up of a Core Team (composed of a Deputy Chief Observer and several electoral experts) as well as long-term and short-term observers.
The Chief Observer , a member of the European Parliament, has the overall responsibility for the mission, including of the Preliminary Statement and of the Final Report and is present in the country at key moments of the mission.
Core Team experts together with the Deputy Chief Observer support the Chief Observer in setting the analytical framework for the mission. To this end, they carry out specific tasks such as the analysis of the electoral, legal and political aspects, the monitoring of the online and offline media and the management of the observers’ work. Core Team experts are specialised, among others, in legal issues, election administration, human rights and gender security, logistics, media and social media monitoring. They have professional experience in election observation and are recruited via specific calls for applications.
Long-term observers (LTOs) are generally deployed throughout the host country around one month before the Election Day. They observe the unfolding electoral campaign, the conduct of the Election Day and the post-election operations. They also address particular issues, such as the use of public resources by candidates during campaigning as well as wider human rights issues such as freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the participation of women and vulnerable groups in the electoral process. After Election Day, LTOs remain on the field to observe the resolution of electoral disputes.
Short-term observers (STOs) are deployed to observe the polling day and the early counting of ballots. Both LTOs and STOs are deployed in teams of two and their work is closely interlinked. Long-term observers report regularly on their observations and prepare the STOs work in their area.
The observers are proposed by EU Member States, plus Canada, Norway and Switzerland, with whom the EU has signed bilateral arrangements for observers from these countries to participate in EU election observation missions.
To fulfil its mandate, the day-to-day management of the mission involves complex logistical and security support. For this, the EU hires supporting staff such as project managers, security officers, drivers, translators, IT professionals, through a service provider.
Methodology of Election Observation Missions
EU Election Observation Missions (EOMs) are only deployed upon invitation from the country where the election takes place. Following consultations with Member States and the European Parliament, the High Representative/Vice President decides on the annual priorities for the European Union’s electoral observation work.
The strength and added-value of EU election observation missions lie in their robust and comprehensive methodology, which is the warrant of their credibility. EOMs assess the electoral process on the basis of international, regional and national election standards. This methodology is uniformly applied to all the electoral processes observed by the EU.
The fundamental principles of independence, impartiality, consistency, long-term approach and professionalism are set out in the 2000 communication from the European Commission on EU election assistance and observation. They cover all phases of the election cycle: pre-election, election day, and immediate post-election. EOMs do not interfere in the organisation of the election itself. Instead, they collect and analyse factual information and provide an independent public assessment of the electoral process.
In 2005 we endorsed, under the auspices of the United Nations, the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (DoP). Since then an ever-growing number of international and regional observer groups have joined in endorsing this document, which has become the golden standard for credible and professional international election observation.
International Election Observers, including EU Observers, share key aspects of observation methodology contained in the DoP. The DoP is currently endorsed by more than 55 organisations across the globe. Engaged from the outset in the elaboration of these principles, the EU has recommitted to the Declaration of Principles with the adoption in July 2015 of its second EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy.
The EOM is generally deployed in the designated country between 8 to 6 weeks prior to Election Day, starting with the Service Provider and the Core Team experts’ arrival. Long-term observers arrive to assess the preparations for the election at the regional/ local level around 5 to 4 weeks before the voting day. Short-term observers arrive shortly before election day to increase the observation capacities of the mission during polling, counting and the tabulation of results.
Regular meetings are held with election officials at national, regional and local levels, political parties, candidates, civil society and media throughout the country.
Observers clearly distinguish between complaints, rumours, accusations and verified facts. Only facts that are witnessed or verified by the observers will be used as the basis of the mission's report. While the mission cooperates with other observer organisations, only information collected by its own international observers is used for the mission's statement and final report.
The assessment of an election is based on the relevant international and regional standards that the country has signed up to, as well as on the national legislation, covering a number of key areas, such as:
- The degree to which the legal framework for elections provides the possibility for a democratic election process;
- The degree of impartiality and transparency shown by the election administration and its efficiency in conducting the process;
- Accuracy of the voter register and the voter registration process;
- Respect for freedom of association in the candidate and political party registration process, allowing for genuine competition;
- A level playing field for the campaign as well as respect for freedoms of assembly, expression, association and movement;
- Fairness of access to state resources for the election campaign and transparency in political and campaign finance;
- The degree of access for candidates and political parties to the media, in particular the state media, and the balance in election coverage;
- Respect for human rights, including women’s participation, participation of minorities and of persons with disabilities, as well as other vulnerable groups;
- Ability of civil society organisations to take part in public affairs without obstacles;
- Universal and equal suffrage;
- The conduct of voting in a manner that safeguards the secrecy of the vote and prevents intimidation or other interference;
- The transparent and accurate counting and tabulation of votes, with measures for ensuring transparency in the process;
- Access to an effective legal remedy for any violation of electoral rights;
- Any other issue which concerns the democratic nature of the election process and the environment in which it takes place, e.g. election-related violence, rule of law issues.
Each of the areas is assessed by the EOM analysts who consider all components of the election process with the support of both long and short-term observers. This enables them to conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the overall administration of the elections as well as the degree of freedom and access granted to candidates, voters and the media.
A Preliminary Statement is then presented by the Chief Observer at a press conference usually 48 hrs after election day. This statement is based on the observation of the entire process up to the voting.
The Final Report contains the EOM's assessment on the whole electoral process and recommendations for the improvement of future electoral processes. It is delivered to national authorities and stakeholders and made public during the Return Visit of the Chief Observer around two months after the EOM leaves the country.
Selection of priority countries
Based on invitations received from countries, the HRVP decides on the missions to be deployed, after consultation with Member States and the European Parliament.
An Exploratory Mission is sent to the country to assess whether deploying an EOM is advisable, feasible and useful. The Exploratory Mission also advises on the conditions that must be fulfilled by the host authorities for the EOM to be able to operate fully and credibly. The Exploratory Mission also discusses with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Election Management Body the Administrative Arrangement(s) to be agreed on and signed before the deployment of the EOM.
Selection of the Chief Observer, Core Team Experts and Observers
After deciding to deploy a mission, the HRVP appoints a Chief Observer, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). The experts of the EOM Core Team are selected, based on their experience, from a pool of experts that the European Commission has compiled following a call for interest published on its website.
Long and short –term observers are appointed by the European Commission and the EEAS from a selection of candidates proposed by EU Member States. The European Parliament may also decide to send a delegation of MEPs to observe the elections. The parliamentary delegation is integrated into the EOM. Working closely with the Chief Observer, it endorses the EOM findings and conclusions.
Want to become an observer?
Each EU Member State has a Focal Point for matters related to election observation. They are part of their national Ministry of Foreign Affairs or of a related external agency. Focal Points are responsible for the recruitment and proposal of their own country’s candidates for selection as Short and Long-Term Observers to EU Election Observation Missions.
Norway, Switzerland and Canada have bilateral arrangements with the EU to send observers to EOMs and therefore they also have Focal Points for election observation.
European Union Database on Election Missions
The European Union Database on Election Missions provides public access to a central repository of the recommendations issued by EOMs since 2016. Recommendations can be searched, by year, region/country, type of mission, type of election and type of recommendation. Final reports of EOMs, preliminary statements and press releases since 2000 as well as reports of EU Election Follow-up Missions can also be found in this database.
Election Observation and Democracy Support to EU EOMs
Election observation is a concrete example of EU’s commitment to supporting democracy and promoting human rights around the world. To this end, the Election Observation and Democracy Support (EODS) III Project, funded by the European Commission, is dedicated to strengthening EOMs capacity in five key areas:
- Strengthening missions’ methodology
- Building capacity to assess the impact of social media on elections
- Coordinating the communication strategy for EU election missions
- Training election observation specialists, and
- Developing tools for the operational support of EU election observation.
Learn more about the complex work behind the scenes Election Observation and Democracy Support (EODS)
- Handbook for European Union Election Observation
- Brochure "Beyond Election Day: Best practices for follow-up to EU Election Observation Missions" (June 2017)
- High-Level Conference on the Future of International Election Observation
- Code of Conduct for EU Election Observers
- Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation
- Compendium of International Standards for Elections
- Evaluation of EU Election Observation Activities
- How to become an Election Observer
- EOM YouTube Channel
- “Election Observation and Democracy Support - EODS” Project
- List of EU EOM and EEM missions 1993 - 2020 (Archived websites)
Follow the Official Facebook page of the European Union Election Observation Missions to access the central hub for all communication on EOMs deployed on the ground and the Official EU EOMs YouTube channel where you can see videos from different missions around the world.