The electoral cycle

Elections are events, but also processes.

The electoral process
  • begins when elections are called or scheduled,
  • includes the days when voters cast their ballot, and
  • continues after the vote.
When the losing candidates do not concede, or when there are challenges to the result, the post-electoral period can stretch on for months or more.

This entire process tests democracy, for better and for worse. Social tensions may flare, revealing - but also sometimes calming - underlying issues.

The European Parliament, with other EU and international partners, works to support its partners throughout the cycle.

Diversity of forms

Just as there is a diversity of democratic processes in the EU, different non-EU states approach elections through their own traditions.

The role of international observers is not to change these electoral processes so that they resemble those of the EU or other countries. Instead, they verify that citizens' desires are expressed and reflected, that candidates can compete on equal grounds, and that the whole process responds to local requirements.

Electronic voting, paper ballots or even marbles and drums; computer tabulation or handwritten tally marks: different systems may all work well.

Before elections

The pre-electoral period is when voters register, voter lists are established, candidates are chosen or eliminated, campaigns are financed and run, and the media focus their attention on the race.

Each of these activities makes a difference for the democratic process.

International observers have to consider all these aspects when evaluating the elections. To monitor them, long-term observers are deployed a few months ahead of Election Day throughout the country.

In recent years, the European Parliament and other international actors have focused on how to prevent pre-electoral violence.

Election observation

Observing Election Day is one of the principal ways the European Parliament supports democracy.

Because MEPs are the EU's only directly elected representatives, their contribution is essential. With personal experience of campaigns, issues of financing and the work of representing citizens, MEPs bring political legitimacy to observation missions.

Over more than three decades, the European Parliament has observed several hundred elections. Every year, MEPs travel to as many as a dozen countries across the world.

After elections

Political transitions, appeals through the court system, protests and unrest: all are elements of the post-electoral period.

Some protests and challenges point to flaws in the democratic process, though not all. A strong and independent judicial system is especially important at this time.

During the post-election period, recommendations that observers made during the elections must be followed up, and in a consistent and sustainable way.

The European Parliament is developing tools to ensure this happens.

Supporting the cycle

Conferences and other events

The future of international election observation

Roger Nkodo Dang, Mairead McGuinness and Federica Mogherini hold an animated discussion during a break in the conference

Roger Nkodo Dang, Mairead McGuinness and Federica Mogherini - © European Union (2018) - European Parliament

A High-Level Conference on the "Future of International Election Observation" was jointly organised by the European Parliament and the European External Action Service on 10-11 October 2018.

The conference was opened by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, and other high-ranking representatives from the EU, the UN and the African Union. First Vice-President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness, Speaker of the Pan-African Parliament Roger Nkodo Dang and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini wrapped up the event.
Through a series of panel debates, over 400 participants - including MEPs, former heads of state, national parliamentarians, representatives of international organisations, election observers, donors and civil society - addressed the major challenges confronting electoral observation and the integrity of democratic elections. These included the rising use of information technology in managing elections, the challenge posed by disinformation and the misuse of social media, and how to prevent electoral violence.

Citizens at the centre

"These missions are an example of our great commitment to a robust parliamentary diplomacy, a fundamental tool for influencing the international scene," President Tajani said. "It is in the best interests of our citizens to live in a world with more democracies and fewer authoritarian regimes, which often cause instability, waves of refugees and economic decline.

"Monitoring elections in non-EU countries requires credibility and political sensitivity. The fact that it is carried out by elected representatives of EU citizens has, therefore, a great added value and increases the visibility of electoral missions. This is why, in the missions of the European Union, the chief election observer is always a MEP, capable of balancing technical analysis with the necessary political considerations".

Plans for the future

The conference also addressed how to strengthen trilateral co-operation (EU/AU/UN) in this area, and generated support for concrete actions to be adopted by the different parliamentary assemblies to ensure the greatest level of independence and impartiality during election observations.
A number of conclusions and recommendations emerging from the conference will be taken forward by the EU Institutions.