Ladies and Gentlemen,
“Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done”. We all know this maxim. This is exactly why observing elections by independent elected representatives at national, regional and local level is so important. It is important for ensuring the legitimacy and credibility of the electoral process which itself, in turn, is essential to democracy.
At this conference, we will be discussing various aspects of election observation, which is one of the most transparent and methodical ways to promote and encourage democracy and human rights. Ensuring that these principles are upheld is, of course, the task of governments, not observers. But election observation is a very valuable tool to support and promote democratic processes and democratic governance.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is specifically mandated to monitor local and regional elections. I should point out that most international observer organisations have a mandate to observe parliamentary elections and that ODHIR observes elections at sub-national level only under special circumstances. This makes the Congress’ role unique in this regard. Since 1990, Congress delegations observed over 50 election processes at regional and local level, in Council of Europe member states but also in the Palestinian Territories.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In spite of the political and media prevalence which is given to elections at the national level, the holding of free and fair elections at the sub-national level is at least as important. No democracy can be referred to as such if not built on sound foundations at grassroots level.
Of course, election observation is not an end in itself. Its purpose is not to criticize countries for failing to hold fully democratic elections or to praise others that live up to their commitments. Election observation has a much more practical purpose: to help member states to improve their electoral processes for the benefit of their citizens.
The Congress Strategy on election observation is based on the following key aspects:
- The uniqueness of its role in observing elections at the sub-national level;
- Election observation, based on international democratic standards, as a tool contributing to the setting-up of democratic institutional frameworks complying with the European Charter of Local Self-Government;
- The need to promote awareness about the added value of local and regional democracy;
- Cooperation with other international observer organizations, to ensure the consistency and coherence of findings and recommendations.
Let me elaborate on these four lines of action.
Election monitoring by the Congress should contribute to setting-up institutional frameworks. These frameworks must comply with the principles underlying local democracy, as laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. In light of this, the Congress puts the accent on post-election dialogue as part of its work on monitoring local and regional democracy. The aim is to improve the follow-up given to the recommendations adopted by the Congress after election observation missions. It is also aimed at facilitating their implementation, in particular through closer work with the Institutional Committee of the Congress, and closer cooperation with other monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe.
Election monitoring by the Congress should contribute to promoting awareness about the significance of democracy at the local and regional level. In light of this, the Congress puts the accent on ensuring that those elections are visible and taken in due consideration by all stakeholders as well as by the media. The Congress also emphasizes the need for reinforcing the monitoring of electoral processes at the sub-national level, by further involving relevant stakeholders such as the Committee of the Regions of the European Union and national associations of local authorities.
Our cooperation with the Committee of the Regions is based on the agreement signed in April 2005, which provides for the possibility of the participation of Committee observers in Congress election observation missions. The first such mission took place in May 2006 to observe the referendum in Montenegro. The Bureau of the Congress has also recently given its agreement of principle to invite elected representatives of national associations of local authorities to take part in Congress election observation missions.
Let me stress once again that observation of elections only makes sense if a coordinated approach among observer organisations is ensured. In this regard, we all need to cooperate even closer to avoid double standards and disagreements which may arise in particular with the conclusions of election observation missions from the “Commonwealth of Independent States”. Such cooperation is crucial to ensure the credibility of election observation at the international level. Moreover, observation of elections only makes sense if the proper follow-up is given to the conclusions and recommendations of observation missions. In this regard, we need close cooperation of all stakeholders, including the Parliamentary Assembly. Local and regional democracy is an important part of the democratic edifice, but it does not exist apart from democracy at national level. This is why we need to apply common standards to elections at all levels. We need to ensure that democratic processes in a given country develop harmoniously, much as democratic processes across our continent as a whole. In applying common standards, we will ensure consistency in our approach. By coordinating our efforts, we will increase our strength, which will bring an added value to our work towards reinforcing democracy at all levels.
I look forward to the deliberations at this conference, which I wish every success.