Before elections

Anticipating Election Day

At political demonstration in Tunisia, a woman holding a flag rides the shoulders of another demonstrator
Political demonstration in Tunisia © Ezequiel Scagnetti
The time before elections prepares voters and candidates, and lays the groundwork for the ballot to come.

A time of expectation and often tension, the pre-electoral period often tests democracy as much as the ballot itself.

Issues that arise include:
  • Who will be allowed to vote? Will voters need to have registered, and how restrictive is that process?
  • Who will be allowed to run? New candidates and incumbents alike may face barriers that impede or encourage democratic change.
  • How are the campaigns financed, and what restrictions are placed on funding?
  • How is media attention distributed among the different candidates?
Any one of these issues can determine the outcome of the election.

European Parliament involvement

The European Parliament only supports the electoral cycles of countries that have invited the Parliament to observe.

The longer-term election observation missions that MEPs join - led by the EU or the OSCE - have been in the country for several weeks before short-term observers, including MEPs, arrive.

Once the mission is established in the country, the pre-vote preparations are scrutinised by observers.

All the recommendations included in the observers' final report are based on findings from the whole electoral process.

The European Parliament's delegates also take part in a joint press conference a day or two after Election Day. Their preliminary findings are presented at the conference, and later incorporated into the MEPs' written assessment.

Preventing pre-electoral violence

A soldier in a helmet looks on as demonstrators gather in Mali
Demonstrators in Mali © Ezequiel Scagnetti
International concern with the impact of violent conflict on elections has grown. In response, the European Parliament has developed a specific programme focused on preventing or mitigating election-related violence.

The European Parliament generally supports enhancing EU activities to respond to the recurrent problem of election-related violence. Parliament's programme builds on policy dialogues across the EU institutions, with UN agencies and with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that focus on conflict prevention.

A study on developing tools

To frame the policy debate, the European Parliament commissioned a study, titled "Developing operational tools within the EU for a comprehensive approach to prevent electoral violence".

The study produced specific recommendations for the EU institutions to develop complementary strategies and instruments to prevent or mitigate electoral violence, including through mediation, facilitation and dialogue.

Concrete efforts

The European Parliament has organised events and, in specific cases, worked to prevent or mitigate violence through targeted round tables and facilitating dialogues.
  • Mr Emmanuel Maurel (GUE/NGL, France), Lead Member of the DEG for Tunisia, visited Tunis on 28-29 November 2022, ahead of the parliamentary elections of 17 December. The mission included meetings with national election observation entities, civil society entities (UGTT and UTICA), human rights defenders and NGOs, prominent women and youth associations, and European institutions present in the country (Council of Europe and EU DEL).

  • Timely initiative ahead of the Presidential elections in Ukraine scheduled for March 2019, the European Parliament organised its first pre-election assessment mission in the OSCE area.

    The mission to Kiev, taking place on 15-17 November 2018, was implemented in partnership with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in two phases: a technical assessment of preparations for the elections, followed by political consultations with all political parties and at the highest level.

    The EP was represented by MEPs Dariusz Rosati and Rebecca Harms and was received by the President, Prime Minister, leading Presidential Candidates, Civil Society, Media, Central Election Commission, and National Public Broadcaster.

    Following the technical and political assessment, the delegation of the European Parliament and the National Democratic Institute issued a Joint Statement, containing 51 recommendations that could contribute to peaceful, credible elections and public confidence in the electoral process.

    The mission provided an invaluable input in preparations for a European Parliament Election Observation Mission to the Presidential elections in March 2019.

  • Programme for an event about election and violent conflict in Kenya in the foreground, with a European Parliament meeting room in the background
    Meeting on Kenya © European Union (2017) - European Parliament

    In the tense political context leading up to Kenya's August 2017 general elections, the European Parliament organised its first pre-election conflict prevention delegation to the country in May 2017.

    The delegation to Kenya was organised in close cooperation with the EEAS and the EU Delegation, and contributed to the EU's other work supporting democracy in this critically important country.

    High stakes

    The EU Election Observation Mission, other members of the international community and Kenyan civil society all encouraged free and fair elections.

    However, historical grievances about previous electoral periods - including the deadly 2007 elections, together with the recurring tensions in the run-up to the 2017 elections - meant that Kenya's 2017 electoral process was delicate and potentially violent.

    MEPs' meetings and conference

    Led by MEPs Alojz Peterle, former Chief Observer for Kenya, European Parliament Members held bilateral meetings with parliamentary leaders, political party leaders and electoral commissioners.

    The MEPs also participated in a conference highlighting women's specific concerns about violence and intimidation during the campaign.

    The European Parliament delegation focused its message on the importance of political leaders acting responsibly to ensure that elections and their outcome remain peaceful.

  • MEP Linda McAvan and other participants sitting in the in the 2015 syposium
    MEPs Linda McAvan (centre) and Alojz Peterle join other participants © European Union (2015) - European Parliament

    In November 2015, MEP Linda McAvan, Co-Chair of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group and Chair of the Development Committee, convened a meeting in the European Parliament with the U.S. Institute of Peace and the European Institute of Peace.

    The Symposium - "Electing Peace: What Works in Preventing Election Violence?"- gathered numerous experts on the issues.

    The issue of conflict prevention and the role of political mediation and dialogue was again highlighted in July 2017, during a seminar chaired by MEPs Judith Sargentini and Alojz Peterle. Titled "Preventing Election-Related Violence: What Role for Political Mediation and Dialogue", the event was co-organised by European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES).

  • MEP David Martin stands with other participants in seminars held in Zanzibar
    MEP David Martin (second from left) in Zanzibar© European Union (2015) - European Parliament
    © European Union (2015) - European Parliament
    © European Union (2015) - European Parliament
    © European Union (2015) - European Parliament

    In May 2015, a high-level delegation from Tanzania, led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Zanzibar, visited the European Parliament for sessions on consensus building and peaceful political dialogue.

    Shortly afterwards, the European Parliament was asked to narrow its support and concentrate on the growing tensions on Zanzibar island prior to Tanzania's general elections, scheduled for October 2015.

    In response, four MEPs - David Martin, Eduard Kukan, Urmas Paet and Ryszard Czarnecki - launched a dialogue with the Members of Parliament of the House of Representatives of Zanzibar.

    Three round table dialogues were held in Zanzibar on 2-4 September 2015, facilitated by the four MEPs and focusing on the following topics:

    • political responsibility to foster a peaceful climate before, during and after the elections,
    • empowering women in political life in Zanzibar,
    • the role and responsibility of young political leaders for preventing electoral violence.

    The response to the initiative was enthusiastic: more than 100 participants joined the events, including representatives from both main political parties, the smaller opposition parties, civil society organisations, media and religious leaders.

    All signed the outcome document: a "Statement of outcomes on peaceful conduct of elections" intended to reduce political tensions.