Commission reports on 2019 European elections: fostering European debates and securing free and fair elections

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


Today, the European Commission has published its report on the conduct of the 2019 elections to the European Parliament. The report shows that young and first-time voters drove turnout figures to the record high. The 2019 election campaign was the most digital to-date – almost half of EU citizens now rely on online news as their main source for information about national and European politics. Yet the Member States have differing rules when it comes to digital campaigning, including on paid-for political content online. A dynamic European debate emerged on a number of topics, showing progress in developing a European political dimension; however, national-specific issues remain key for candidates and voters alike. European citizens expressed increased satisfaction with free and fair elections in the EU, but further work is necessary to protect democracy from foreign interference and manipulation and promote free and fair elections in Europe.

Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said: “We witnessed the most digital European election campaigns ever. This brings new opportunities of political engagement for the citizens and the candidates, but also pose some challenges for free and fair elections. We all need to work together to ensure that laws are respected also online and that voters are not subject to unlawful manipulation techniques and disinformation. The European Democracy Action plan will focus on wider approach to strengthen democracy, counter disinformation and to adapt to evolving threats and manipulations, as well as to support free and independent media.We made great strides in our preparedness to respond to the challenges posed to the elections by the digital environment, including from disinformation and other forms of interference. We have committed to a new push for European democracy and we must all play our part to deliver.”

Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, said: “Europe has stepped up to the challenge of protecting free and fair elections from interference, and of increasing citizens’ confidence and trust in democracy. The record-high turnout in the 2019 European elections is a testament to the efforts of Member States who came together to pool their expertise and capabilities as never before, including within the European Cooperation Network on Elections. We need to keep on working together and learning from each other. We need to continue to engage citizens, help improve the resilience of our democracies, and address the threats of external interference.”

In parallel to the main takeaways of the 2019 European elections, the report also provides a focus on the implementation of its package of measures to secure free and fair elections in Europe.

Participation in the elections:

  • Record-high turnout: 50.66% of Europeans eligible to vote took part in the 2019 elections, the highest turnout in 25 years. Participation and representation of women increased, but findings show that Europeans with disabilities still face practical difficulties when participating in elections.
  • A dynamic European debate emerged on topics such as the economy, climate change and human rights and democracy, of particular importance to young and first-time voters. The collaboration among the European institutions and with stakeholders at national, regional and local level to carry out information campaigns and awareness raising was the strongest ever. Activities also included for the first time a table-top exercise organised among the Commission, the Parliament, the members of the European Cooperation Network on Elections and the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) to test the effectiveness of the response procedures and crisis plans. However, the report shows that citizens do not always have sufficient tools to participate actively in the debate.
  • Around 14 million EU citizens living in a Member State other than their state of nationality were eligible to vote. Relatively few used their EU rights to vote in the Member State they lived in, and the number of mobile EU citizens standing as candidates fell.

Towards a transparent electoral process with a truly European dimension

Member States should keep on working together, including in the European Cooperation Network on Elections, to make sharing data and information, and the overall elections, work smoothly.Measures are needed to sustain and reinforce European political dimension for instance by further promoting and supporting the transparency between the European and national political levels

Addressing disinformation and election manipulation

The threat of interference in the elections in view of manipulating voter opinion and choice was real and multifaceted, and so was the work to address it. Isolated cyberattacks, data protection and other elections-related complaints were reported. Further work will be necessary to protect elections from both foreign interference and manipulation. This work should include, more effective safeguards for elections that are also fit for the digital age to address among others, developing the transparency of political ads and communications and help identify manipulative content. Also, competent authorities should be better placed to effectively monitor and enforce applicable rules.

Next steps

The Commission will present a European Democracy Action Plan by the end of 2020 to help improve the resilience of our democracies and address the threats of external interference. It will also issue its Citizenship report by the end of 2020, which will set out future concrete actions to further advance the rights attached to the status of EU citizenship, including democratic participation. Dialogue with international partners will continue, covering the exchange of best practice for resilient electoral systems.

The Commission is continuing to build on the experience gained by the European Cooperation Network on Elections and is facilitating the exchange of best practices on specific issues, such as adapting to the coronavirus pandemic or micro-targeting. The Network will meet again on 24 June, to discuss such issues and the report published today.

Background

In September 2018, the Commission adopted an electoral package to promote measures to protect the integrity of European elections and to help protect our democracy from attempts at manipulation and fight against disinformation. The measures called on Member States to ensure transparency of political advertising, to respect rules on European data protection during the campaign, and to be ready to face cyber threats.

The EU also promoted the setting-up of elections networks at national and European level to foster a comprehensive approach and mutual support among competent authorities. The national networks met five times in 2019 at a European level as the election cooperation network, assisted by the Commission, to share expertise and best practices among the Member States including on threats, gaps and enforcement.

The measures contained in the electoral package came as a response to challenges posed by online campaigning and to threats observed in recent elections and referenda directed at discrediting and delegitimising elections in Europe.

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