European Union,General,International

Joint recommendations to the EU to strengthen European democracy and elections

31 Mar , 2023  

Brussels, Vienna, 31 March 2023: Effective action is essential to protect democracy towards the 2024 European Parliament elections. The recommendations of 46 European civil society organisations (CSOs) for an ambitious “Defence of Democracy Package” contribute to the  European Commission’s initiative, and stress the importance of a structured and open civil dialogue.  CSOs, and specifically ciitzen-based election observers, are key partners in defending democracy. The full submitted report with its recommendations can be found  here.

The 2024 European Parliament elections provide an important opportunity to strengthen citizen participation in elections, improve trust and promote identification with democratic values. In addition, voter mobilisation and campaigning always provide an opportunity to build a collective advocacy agenda, improve inclusion and address equality issues for underrepresented groups, including women, people with disabilities and minorities. Elections need to become more inclusive, accessible, representative and transparent.

In light of new trends and challenges in elections that transcend the national borders of EU Member States, it is important to ensure the security and integrity of elections in the EU. The EU should lead the way with regulatory options and non-regulatory support initiatives for European elections. Important non-legislative support areas include fair and ethical digital campaigning, cybersecurity in elections, political finance and sharing of practices. Citizen election observation is one of the most important tools for building, supporting and defending democracy. It enables direct citizen participation in public life and promotes democratic reform and electoral integrity.

Key Recommendations

  • Cooperate with Member States to protect and expand the space for civil society organisations to operate, including by promoting participation in and funding monitoring and reporting on electoral processes, as well as monitoring and reporting on the role of ad tech platforms before, during and after elections;
  • Create tools to financially support CSOs that evaluate electoral processes and monitor all aspects of the electoral cycle before and after election campaigns, including organisations involved in voter education;
  • Develop a set of measures in the run-up to the 2024 European Parliament elections to strengthen the capacity of CSOs to observe various aspects of these elections and encourage Member States to take the necessary measures to fully implement OSCE commitments on citizen election observation;
  • Strengthen structural exchanges with Member States on digital, internal and domestic threats to elections;
  • Consider local elections as an important tool for strengthening democracy. Local elections involve not only political parties but also civic lists, which are often genuine expressions of civil society that organise themselves and where there is less opportunity for undue foreign influence;
  • Establish a permanent reinforced secretariat for the European Cooperation Network on Elections (ECNE) and expand its role;
  • Consider creating a similar European network for political finance oversight bodies. Cooperation in the area of political finance fills a gap in exchange between Member States, as oversight of money in politics is often carried out by bodies other than those responsible for elections;
  • Reflect on the renewal of the European political system by reforming the rules for the governance of European political parties so that they can act as an important bridge between European politics and European citizens;
  • Consider reviewing the chapter on political advertising of the Code of Practice on Disinformation following the adoption of the Regulation on Political Advertising.

Strengthening public engagement in the European elections, ensure ethical behaviour and enable European political parties
In light of the recent corruption scandal in the European Parliament, additional efforts are needed to restore trust in European democracy and elections to the European Parliament. EU legislation cannot cover certain loopholes for political parties that exist at national level. A code of conduct can close this loophole. A European code could target European and other political parties, candidates and/or online platforms and follow the examples in different EU Member States.

Key recommendations

  • Support civil society organisations in exercising their influence as facilitators and bridge-builders to improve citizens’ outreach and engagement in politics through the use of new and creative communication tools throughout the political mandate;
  • Continue the initiated electoral reform process in an inclusive, consultative and participatory manner involving civil society and citizen-led election observation organisations;
  • Adopt an objective, fair, durable and transparent method for the allocation of seats in the European Parliament. The method should facilitate and include clear procedures on periodic review to reflect shifts in population numbers;
  • Strengthen the overall transparency of campaign spending in the EU Member States by reviewing and further enhancing the rules for reporting and disclosure of campaign income and expenses;
  • Increase voter mobilisation and putting effort into campaigning provide an opportunity to build a coherent agenda, improve inclusion and address issues for underrepresented groups such as young people;
  • Consider facilitating the adoption of a code of conduct for ethical online campaigning towards the 2024 European Parliament elections. Agreeing on commitments for ethical online behaviour will complement EU’s planned rules for transparent online campaigning and foster citizens’ trust in European elections;
  • Remove remaining barriers for persons with disabilities, including those related to restrictions on suffrage rights based on mental/intellectual disability and support independent and informed voting and decision-making by persons with disabilities;
  • Consider additional common European minimum voter and candidate eligibility criteria to ensure the equality of the right to vote and to stand as a candidate across the EU;
  • Discuss with Member States the options for ensuring the equality of opportunities in exercising the right to vote in and across Member States with common minimum requirements for the administration of alternative and advance voting methods, in particular with regards to the uniformity of voter eligibility criteria.
  • Explore with Member States the possibilities for harmonising the requirements related to the minimum voting age, residency requirements, independent candidacy, permissible restrictions on suffrage rights, and measures to support equal participation of women and men;
  • Help align different cut-off dates for voter registration to facilitate data exchange within a common timeframe and in a timely manner.

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