Representatives from several EU countries have participated in the EU meeting in Oslo. (Photo: NORCAP/Ida Sem Fossvik)
Representatives from several EU and partner countries have participated in the EU meeting in Oslo. (Photo: NORCAP/Ida Sem Fossvik)

Discussing challenges in election observation

Ida Sem Fossvik|Published 02. Jun 2017
Social media, accusations of fake news, and nations trying to influence elections in other nations are crucial challenges for election observers to handle on future missions, says Emanuele Giaufret, Head of Division, Democracy and Electoral Observation in the European External Action Service. Giaufret is in Oslo for the EU focal point meeting for election observation, organised by NORDEM.

Norway has provided observers to EU election observer missions since 2000. NORDEM, now a part of NORCAP, is the Norwegian focal point for election observation and is responsible for recruiting, training and deploying Norwegian observers to international election observation missions.

It is the first time Norway hosts the biannual meeting and Giaufret says this forum, as well as other similar gatherings are important in order to discuss future missions and challenges that arise in connection with them.

"Dealing with fake news is a new area of work for us. We had a case in Gabon last year where there was a social media campaign against election observation and it even led to unsubstantiated accusations of corruption. We are highly aware of these issues. We discuss them with our partners and member states and my sense is that this is something we will have to deal with for quite a long time", he says.

Valued partner

NORDEM sends between 60 and 80 observers to elections all around the world every year. The two-day meeting in Oslo saw representatives from various EU countries, as well as Switzerland and Canada, get together to share experiences and look at past and future missions. They also discussed how this work, and the preparations and follow-ups contribute to the broader agenda of democracy support.

"Norway is very proud to host this meeting where important discussions and learning on election observation take place. The fact that we are all gathered here in Oslo proves that Norway is seen as a valued partner in election observation for the EU and that Norway considers this partnership to be a key element of our involvement in electoral processes and democratization worldwide", said Norwegian State Secretary, Elsbeth Tronstad when opening the meeting Thursday.

NORCAP Director, Benedicte Giæver, added that integrating NORDEM into NORCAP brings important new partnerships to the organisation.

"This integration strengthens our department's work within the field of human rights and democratization. We look forward to develop the collaboration further and work together on future missions", she said.

From left: Emanuele Giaufret (European External Action Service), Georgios Tsitsopoulos (EU Foreign Policy Regulatory Instruments and Election Observation ) and State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) at the opening of the EU focal point meeting in Oslo. (Photo: NORCAP/Ida Sem Fossvik)

Positive change

According to Emanuele Giaufret, one of the most important aspects of election observation missions is the ability to follow up on recommendations made in connection with an election. The EU has focused on this recently and Giaufret says they have found signs of positive change.

In Honduras, the authorities have adopted an election campaign funding legislation that was recommended by the EU in 2013. It will be tested in the upcoming elections this year. Another example is from Cambodia, where one has established an independent election commission, drawing in people from civil society and opposition parties", he explains.

However, although positive change is increasing, the ability of the EU and partner countries to continue discussions and promoting recommendations is just as important, Giaufret claims.

"It is a clear indication of how serious we are in our democracy support when we observe an election, make recommendations and stay to discuss and engage with civil society, political parties and the authorities. It is a long term investment which sometimes takes a long time to blossom, but it gives you the opportunity to be a partner and that to me is a clear indication of success," he says.

"No election is perfect"

Although most EU election observations are done in areas with political instability or insecurity, these are not the only areas that can benefit from having independent election observers report on their elections.

"No election is perfect. In the past, election observation was perceived as a temporary measure, to accompany countries transitioning into democracies. Now, , there are missions also in the USA, and European countries invite the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to observe their elections. This also helps us in the countries where we observe, because they know the observation is not there because they are not developed enough, but because it is done everywhere,", says Emanuele Giaufret.


Emanuele Giaufret says they have found signs of positive change in the way elections are conducted in countries such as Honduras and Cambodia. (Photo: NORCAP/Ida Sem Fossvik)